Law proposed to force folk into church
Arizona state Senator Sylvia Allen, above – Republican representative for the town of Snowflake – was the object of much pointing and laughing this week after she suggested that Arizona should consider passing a law to make church attendance mandatory.
During a discussion on gun legislation at a Senate subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, Allen suggested:
Probably we should be debating a Bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth.
Allen’s comment was posted online by state Senator Steve Farley (D), who commented:
Even if you believe that would stem the moral decay, I think the Constitution makes it very clear that our country is founded on the pillar of separation of church and state.
She later defended her suggestion, but described it as “flippant”.
When she was younger, she said:
People prayed, people went to church. I remember on Sundays the stores were closed. The biggest thing is religion was kicked out of our public places, out of our schools.
Arizona Republic columnist E J Montini mocked Allen’s idea yesterday by writing a sarcastic “letter to God” explaining her idea and asking for help.
I’m not sure that even a Supreme Being such as yourself could get through to the lesser beings in the Arizona Legislature, but perhaps You could take a moment and explain to them the Constitutional reason for a separation between church and state. And perhaps explain as well that religion and morality are not something that comes from public schools, but from our faiths, our families and, ultimately, ourselves.
The Republic raised more serious questions regarding Allen earlier this month when it reported on her efforts to help police officers under internal investigations after her son-in-law, a corrections officer, was accused of sexually assaulting female prisoners under his watch.
The officer, Tim Hunt, was fired after a “preponderance of evidence” corroborated the prisoners’ allegations.
And while on the subject of politics and religion, here in the UK we now have a “gentle and permissive” law that extends the powers of various local authorities to include religious observances at its meetings and makes it clear that they can support or be represented at religious events.
The Local Government (Religious etc Observances) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday. This prompted Stephen Evans, of the National Secular Society, to say that the passing of the legislation was:
No victory for democracy or religious freedom. By allowing council officials or religious cliques, even if they are in the majority, to impose their acts of worship on to the formal business of council meetings, this legislation has the potential do much more harm than good.
Council chambers are not places of worship and it’s hard to see how religious freedom is served by allowing councils to summon councillors to prayer.
Thankfully, the passing of the Act is unlikely to give rise to any significant number of councils introducing acts of worship – and we expect most local authorities will continue to treat their employees’ and councillors’ personal beliefs as a private matter rather than official council business.
The Bill was put forwarded following action by a humanist councillor in Bideford, Clive Bone, who objected to the council’s long-standing practice of saying prayers before its meetings. Bone, who has since died, won his case, but an intervention by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, above, changed the law to allow prayers to continue if councils wished it.
In response to an objection by Baroness Turner, who said “a number of us who are secularists feel that our views have been somewhat bypassed,” Lord Cormac, who moved the Bill, described it as
The most gentle and permissive of Bills.
It gives to local authorities and to other elected authorities the opportunity – if they wish – to decide, by a majority, to begin their meetings with prayers or silent contemplation. There is absolutely no compulsion on them to do it, nor is there any obligation that the prayers should be of a particular or specific faith or as to whether the reflections should be eligious or secular. I honestly think that these points are met in this very permissive Bill.
Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, told Christian Today that the law was a welcome symbol that faith was not banned from the public square. He said that it was not discriminatory against people with no faith.
It has never been the case that if someone doesn’t pray, they can’t be a councillor. They just don’t have to turn up for it. It is clearly separate from the business.
Freethinker reader Ernest Jackson, who has been keeping close tabs on this Bill, observed:
For such a short Bill it is quite complicated, and complicated legislation tends to give rise to unexpected results. Much is made of its being merely permissive but its sponsors do not seem to tackle the objection that such powers are outside the remit of a public authority anyway.
The objectors are taken to be atheists who are told not to turn up for the prayers but I expect objections from minority believers complaining that their creeds are not catered for.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (Arizona report)