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6 Biggest Religious Right Threats to America

With many legislatures tilting right and "prayer" caucuses on the prowl, Church-State separation may be in trouble in the coming year.

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The American-Statesman reported in August that Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) said she is gearing up for a fight over vouchers. Texas, she insisted, should be focused on improving aspects of the public school system, such as bolstering magnet and charter schools, rather than dumping money into private schools.  

“We’re on code red,” Diane Patrick said.

A November op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram penned by education experts also slammed vouchers.

“Many private schools are par­ochial, and the religious orientation may not be appropriate for some families, also raising the question of separation of church and state,” wrote Jamie Wilson, school superintendent of the Denton school district; Steven Waddell, superintendent in Lewis­ville, and Jerry R. Thomas, dean of the University of North Texas’ College of Education. 

In Tennessee, a major drive for vouchers is expected. In 2012, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) ducked a political battle by setting up a task force charged with examining vouchers and making recommendations for the 2013 legislative session.

That task force offered its suggestions in November, calling for discussion about accountability, subsidy amounts and which private schools and students should be eligible.

Haslam asked the nine-member group only to study how Tennessee might use tax dollars to allow some public school students to attend private schools. Critics noted that study group members turned to voucher advocates for advice, which undermined the report’s usefulness.

“The task force seemed to rely on reports that made representations about the success of voucher programs in other areas, but seems to wholly ignore the steadily increasing avalanche of empirical evidence that goes the other way,” Americans Uni­ted State Legislative Counsel Aman­da Rolat said in a press statement.

Rolat told Church & State that she anticipates an uphill battle on this issue in Tennessee, which is why Americans United has reached out to friendly state legislators to get a better understanding of how AU can work with them.

Advocacy groups have worked hard to build support for vouchers.  StudentsFirst, the Memphis Commercial Appeal says, has given thousands of dollars to candidates in legislative campaigns in the last two years. The newspaper said that group donated $427,000 through its Tennessee PAC between January and November 2012 alone.

When it comes to pro-voucher spending nationwide, however, few can match the wealthy and powerful Betsy DeVos. DeVos, former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and wife of Amway fortune heir Dick DeVos, has poured millions into voucher advocacy.

Her American Federation for Children claims that hundreds of “educational choice” lawmakers were elected to state legislatures in 2012, many of whom were endorsed and funded by the group. This ensures that DeVos’ influence will not wane anytime soon, and she can be expected to continue funding voucher campaigns in many states. 

2. Creationism In Science Classes

Every year, legislators attempt to introduce religion into public school science classes. In addition to Fiscus’ Montana creationism crusade mentioned above, an Indiana lawmaker is leading a similar effort.

Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) proposed a bill last year that would have mandated the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolution in public schools. That measure passed the Senate but died in the House after some lawmakers realized that it was blatantly unconstitutional and would have led to lawsuits.

Kruse is back with a new proposal, and this time he claims his goal is to promote critical inquiry in the classroom.

“If a student thinks something isn’t true, then they can question the teacher and the teacher would have to come up with some kind of research to support that what they are teaching is true or not true,” Kruse told the Indianapolis Star. 

 
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