Amendment 3 purports to fund early childhood education and health programs with proceeds from an increase in the state tax on cigarettes (Missouri’s is lowest in the country). Opposition to Amendment 3 is widespread, including both gubernatorial candidates, a bipartisan majority of the state legislature, and the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, Missouri Cures, the National Education Association, and many others.
But why does AU care?
Amendment 3 would carve out a loophole in our state constitution’s ban on providing aid to religious schools with public funds. By creating an exemption to Article IX, Section 8 of the Missouri Constitution, Amendment 3 could result in sending public funds to private, religious schools.
Amendment 3 would establish a permanent “Early Childhood Commission” that must include an appointed representative of the “faith community” (which is undefined). The Commission would be responsible for distributing millions of dollars of tax money and because the Amendment also creates a constitutional loophole, recipients could include religious organizations.
The measure does not specify how these public funds will be used and provides no mechanism for evaluation or oversight. Its unintended consequences could be repaired only by passing another constitutional amendment.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes Amendment 3. It’s a very bad idea with serious consequences. The complete text of the amendment is available at http://www.sos.mo.gov/cmsimages/Elections/Petitions/2016-152.pdf
Our annual picnic was at the south picnic shelter in Shaw Park, Clayton, Mo, on October 2. One of our own Board members, Christine Guinther, was our speaker. Christine is Past President of the Missouri National Education Association, and spoke about Church/State issues relevant to a classroom teacher or principal.
On September 6, a Letter to the Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was published, advocating taxpayer support for special needs education in Catholic schools. (Click link to read).
Our response (below) appeared in the 9/10 edition. Unfortunately, they omitted my affiliation with AU:
While it could be true, as Lisa Wilson writes (Taxes could help Catholic Schools educate special needs students, September 6), that all it takes to educate special needs students is “willingness and money”, there are many who would say that other things are also required. If Catholic schools are willing to provide special education, there seems to be little evidence of it. However, it is indisputable that religious schools would like to use public tax dollars, preferably without the need to meet state standards. There are excellent reasons why diversion of public money to religious institutions is not allowed. One of the best is in the Missouri Constitution, Article 1, Section 7: “…no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.” Of course, this section of our state constitution is consistent with the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which constitutes the basis for separation of church and state. While we are delighted that Mrs. Wilson is pleased with the education provided by the taxpayers to her son, we hope that she can find a Catholic church to provide the religious training that she greatly values.
Creve Coeur, MO
Vice-President, St. Louis Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Those of us who care about separation of church and state, and about religious tolerance and accommodation in American life, often wish that knowledge of the beliefs of the major religions could be taught in schools, to lay the foundation for respect of alternative viewpoints. Linda K. Wertheimer (not the Linda Wertheimer from NPR) describes in Faith Ed a number of attempts to do just that, from her own experience in fourth grade with “The Church Lady”, a well-meaning lay teacher of weekly Christian lessons in the public schools of rural Ohio, to many unsuccessful and a few effective programs from Massachusetts to Texas, Florida, Kansas, and California. Teaching this subject in a community suspicious of minority religions, and especially Islam, is full of pitfalls. Wertheimer describes many of them, and a few programs that have proved effective. This book is highly recommended for parents, teachers, and school administrators who might be considering such a program. While AU vigorously opposes proselyting in public schools, teaching about religion is both constitutional and desirable, if it can be accomplished in a fair and evenhanded way. It can be done, as has been demonstrated in the public schools of Modesto, California. The book is Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance, by Linda K. Wertheimer, Beacon Press 2015, 978-0-8070-5527-4.
We are pleased to announce that the St. Louis Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State provided a free forum to leaders of religious organizations about what the law allows them to do, or precludes them from doing, with regard to political support for candidates and issues. Religious organizations that have tax-exempt status risk losing those privileges if they transgress the law. The forum was held at the Mid-County Library in Clayton on September 1, 2016 (just in time for the election!) at 7:00p. Information was by our President, Cynthia Holmes, and distinguished attorney Leonard Frankel (pictured left). This was not be a MeetUp event, because we are targeting religious leaders rather than our own membership.
This timely subject is the cover story and the editorial of the June issue of Church and State. Click on those links to see the complete articles. Franklin Graham’s most recent foray into unconstitutional use of tax-exempt funds for political purposes is described briefly in the July/August issue.
The proposed law that would have enshrined religious discrimination in our state constitution died, mercifully, in the Missouri House committee that was considering it. It had been passed by the Republican majority in the Senate, after receiving no Democratic Party support there. The vote was 4-4 in the committee, which will kill the bill, not allowing it to go to a floor vote, that could have put it on the November ballot. The public outpouring of opposition to the bill, including unusual public statements by corporations in the state finally led to its defeat. Read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story in the April 28 issue.
Many of our Board members were at our booth at the annual Earth Day celebration in front of the Muny Opera in Forest Park on Sunday, April 24. It was a sunny and warm day, and a huge crowd showed up. Parking was very tight for those who drove, but not much a problem for those like me who biked! Special thanks to Board member Richard Haar, who got us organized and stayed at the booth all day. He is the handsome fellow shown with (left to right) New Treasurer Helene Sherman, Old Treasurer Carol Bartell, and Secretary Mary O’Reilly in the photo.
Under the headline “Constitutional Balancing Act Topples Under SJR 39”, Tony Messenger’s column for Sunday, April 24, 2016, describes a report by law professors from Washington University, St. Louis University, UMKC and UMC on the constitutionality of this controversial measure. We are pleased to see that some of the best constitutional experts in the state have come to the same conclusion that we reached weeks ago. Read Messenger’s column, and also our remarks and those of our national office about this issue that were posted on March 10.
Our Annual meeting was held April 14 at the Center of Clayton. The featured speaker, Missouri Senator Jill Schupp drew a good crowd of about 40. Senator Schupp has been in the news recently because of her actions relative to SJR 39, as you can read in the Post-Dispatch story about it.
Senator Schupp is shown seated with long-time former ACLU Executive Director Joyce Armstrong. In the background are, from left to right, our Secretary, Mary O’Reilly, and Directors Richard Haar, Chris Guinther, and Keith Hubbard (with his wife).
Another view of the meeting in its early stages. As usual, Board member Ann Pollack is making good use of a spare moment to work on a knitting project. After her more prepared remarks, Senator Shupp (center, in white) entertained questions from the group.
An Op-Ed against SJR 39, “SJR 39 will hurt Missourians and Missouri companies” appeared in the April 12 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was signed by the top executives of Monsanto, MasterCard, KC Southern, Civic Progress, Washington University, StL Regional Chamber, Express Scripts, Dow Chemical, and Edward Jones. The link will take you to the complete essay.