By Josh Healey
Gaza is a shtetl. The Israeli army are cossacks. Palestinians are my...
By Ian Murphy
Governor Scott Walker, the duly elected son of a preacher, has ruled Wisconsin with religious fervor. He's successfully managed to compel the state's taxpayers to fund the religious education of students with vouchers—500 this year, 1,000 the next, most of whom were already attending private schools. Walker's proudly signed a bill into law restricting the reproductive rights of women across the state—though the provision requiring abortion providers to have ready access to surgery rooms has been temporarily struck down by a Seventh Circuit Court injunction. Even Act 10, Walker's defining piece of anti-labor legislation, which stripped most public union employees of their collective bargaining rights, smacks of an entrenched religiosity that justifies fruitless toil on Earth so that one may earn a living wage in heaven.
It’s ultimately up to voters in the Badger State to decide where to draw the line between church and state—or whether to erase it entirely. Enter: Assembly Joint Resolution 43 and Senate Joint Resolution 38, a proposed “Religious Freedom Amendment” to Article 1, Section 18, of the Wisconsin Constitution which, if it passes the legislature, will be ratified or rejected at the ballot. Patrick Elliot, a staff attorney for Wisconsin's own Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a nonprofit focused on church-state separation issues, testified in opposition to SJR 38, reminding the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor that “the substance of Article 1, Section 18, has been unchanged for 165 years,” and claiming that the proposal “turns a shield into a sword.” Article 1, Section 18 currently reads: “The right of every person to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any person be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, without consent; nor shall any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship; nor shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of religious societies or religious or theological seminaries." The “Religious Freedom Amendment” would add: “The right of conscience, which includes the right to engage in activity or refrain from activity based on a sincerely held religious belief, shall not be burdened unless the state provides it has a compelling interest in infringing upon the specific action or refusal to act, and the burden is the least-restrictive alternative to the state’s action. A burden to the right of conscience includes indirect burdens, such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or exclusion from programs or access to facilities.” The troubling and vague amendment was introduced by State Rep. David Craig (R-Town of Vernon) and State Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) last year. Craig's amendment said its purpose is in “making sure that our state understands, that our police force understands and our school superintendents understand.” It also said the amendment is needed to reinforce a court ruling that a high school didn't have the authority to censor one student's anti-gay adoption piece in the school newspaper.
“[The newspaper issue] was resolved very quickly—without reference to the Wisconsin Constitution,” says Elliot. “More so free speech rights were involved than religious freedom rights.” The FFRF's called the bill “the brainchild of Wisconsin’s notorious Julaine Appling of the Wisconsin Family Action (affiliated with Focus on the Family)”. This is unsurprising. The Bible-humping Focus on the Family is behind several other states' proposed “Religious Freedom Amendments,” including Colorado's, Nevada's, and Kentucky's—which critics rightly claim would legalize the “religious freedom” to discriminate against the nonreligious, homosexuals, and “sluts,” for example. The dangers of such an amendment, laid out by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, include: • It could be invoked to give parents and guardians permission to rely on “faith” and “prayer” rather than carry out their duty to seek medical care for gravely ill children. • It would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control, or allow religious employers to pay women less. • It could allow state employees to refuse to marry couples if such a marriage would conflict with their religion — if the couple is interracial, for example. • Theoretically, this bill could even allow priests to refuse to report child rape without penalty. • It could allow children to opt out of bona fide schoolwork that conflicts with their religion (e.g., no more evolution!). Proponents of the legislation frame it both as a very important measure to protect religious freedom, and as a means to merely codify existing legal precedent. If this precedent is already firmly held, and it is, one must wonder, why are such amendments necessary? Answer: They're not. The timing of these amendments largely coincides with the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, aka Chairman Barack Mao Stalin Obama's well-documented desire to stuff our children with birth control and Plan B like so many godless piñatas. And, like “model” legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Wisconsin's proposed bill bears a striking resemblance in language to other states' Focus on the Family-derived Religious Freedom Amendments. It's Christian boilerplate. Naturally, there are broader, longer-term goals than restricting reproductive rights and thwarting Obama. There’s theocracy. Sounds hyperbolic, but I don't know what else to call it when, if all goes according to Gawd's plan in Wisconsin, taxpayers will be funding children's creationist indoctrination (more so than currently), pharmacists can deny women birth control, judges can refuse to marry same-sex couples, and “religious freedom” is generally wielded as the legal weapon of an oppressive religious patriarchy. Insofar as “religious freedom” amendments fall under so-called states rights, this is yet another example of how outside capital and lobbying are focused in an effort outspend local opposition and usurp federal law. Not only is religious protection already clearly outlined in the Wisconsin's Constitution, it's given prime billing in the U.S. Constitution. So, again, why are these amendments necessary? And, again, the answer is, they're not. Seems obvious that this type of bill should be stoned to death for its sins, but to vocally oppose what the Freedom from Religion Foundation has dubbed the “Orwellian 'Religious Freedom Amendment' ” could be a potential PR massacre. After all, how could any patriotic American possibly be against “religious freedom”? Asked if the amendment will pass the legislature, Elliot says, “I hope not.” I hope not, too. Then again, maybe if the dirty hippies (war veterans, little old ladies, clergy, and Progressive editors) invoke the “religious freedom” to sing pro-labor songs—or simply watch people singing pro-labor songs—at the capitol... Amen? Meh. Probably not worth it. But I would like the right to murder my own children. Because, really, that's what religious freedom is all about. Follow Murphy on Twitter.