Pennsylvania Religious Vouchers Proposed (December 1995)

Pennsylvania Religious Vouchers Proposed

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is promoting a revised “pilot tuition grant” to subsidize private and religious education for needy families in 15 cities and counties over a 5 year program.

The program would cost at least $45 million in the first year alone, and $500 million through a 5-year span. Initially only families with federal taxable incomes of $15,000 or less would be eligible for grants of $350 to $1,500. By the third year, people with incomes of $35,000 or less would be eligible.

The Coalition to Oppose Tuition Vouchers, made up of 41 groups representing 3.5 million members, said the program, dubbed Kids II, is “anything but a ‘pilot.’ “

“It’s foolish to spend millions of state tax dollars on religious and private schools when the state does not adequately fund public schools now,” said a spokesperson.

In fact, Ridge tactlessly unveiled the proposal at an overcrowded public elementary school.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association called the bill an attempt to bail out religious schools with tax dollars to the detriment of public schools.

Graham To Get Congressional Medal?

U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor of North Carolina introduced legislation in November to honor Rev. Billy Graham and his wife Ruth with the Congressional Gold medal, one of the nation’s most distinguished recognitions.

The medal has been awarded fewer than one hundred times in the past 200 years, and is reserved for those who have “performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.” George Washington received the first Gold Medal. Other recipients: Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Winston Churchill.

“There exists no greater public servants in our nation, or indeed the world, than the Rev. and Mrs. Graham,” gushed Taylor, who added that they “represented the mainstream of American Christianity.”

The legislation calls for awarding the medal on behalf of “their lasting contributions toward improvements in racial equality, morality and philanthropy.”

The U.S. Treasury would strike 10,000 replicas of the Graham medal in bronze to sell to the public.

Teen Killed For Failing Koran Lessons

A 16 year old boy from Saudi Arabia was tortured to death by family members in early November in Menomonie, Wisconsin, in part for failing to correctly answer questions about the Koran.

Authors found the corpse with gruesome cuts, welts, burns and bruises, his skin raw or missing from large portions of the back, bloodied hands, and wounds revealing long-term abuse.

An uncle, cousin and two brothers had fled Pennsylvania for Wisconsin with the boy in custody in October after police were summoned to his home because of his screams.

A young woman living downstairs from the victim in Wisconsin told police that while on a car trip with them to Ohio, one of the men quizzed the boy about the Koran. When he did not reply quickly or correctly enough, the driver pulled off the road and beat the boy.

He had appeared in school to register with two black eyes, but had not attended, his brother excusing his absences from sickness. Witnesses recalled seeing the boy limping through the streets looking ghoulish, apparently from his real wounds, on Halloween.

A report of suspected abuse was not followed through when police could not easily reach the family at home. Authorities contend the investigation was hampered because none of the suspects speaks English. The victim’s adult relatives were in custody of police.

Christian Coalition Bulldozes Congress

The federal budget bears the Christian Coalition imprint, the San Francisco Chronicle(10/30/95) reports.

“They had a huge role in shaping the Republican tax bill,” according to economist Stephen Moore. The group spent $1 million lobbying for the “Contract With America.”

The newspaper reports that earlier this year, the Coalition teamed up with the National Beer Wholesalers to support a measure to restrict lobbying by nonprofit groups receiving federal grants. A bank of 30 phones at the coalition’s headquarters in Chesapeake, Virginia, can tie up Congressional phones.

“We divided up the list” of House Appropriations Committee members, reports David K. Rehr, of the beer wholesalers. “They’d have Christian Coalition members calling the districts, and we’d have beer wholesalers and their employees calling as well.”

Now the Christian Coalition’s own agenda is setting the Congressional agenda, as with the votes on “partial-birth” abortions–the group’s nonmedical term for some rare late abortions involving fetal abnormalities or danger to the pregnant woman’s life.

Its so-called “Contract With the American Family” announced last spring includes many of the pronatalist tax breaks being debated, such as the $500-per-child tax credit.

What has received little media attention is the Christian Coalition’s plan to substitute religious institutions for government agencies providing social services, and “tithes” to churches through taxes. However, Coalition supporters in Congress are hard at work on measures to enact such a scheme.

Also prominent in the Coalition’s contract on the family is the so-called “Religious Equality Amendment,” which would eviscerate the heart of the Establishment Clause separating government from churches.

Banned During Banned Book Week

The Book Your Church Doesn’t Want You To Read was banned by Barnes & Noble in San Diego during “Banned Book Week,” reports book editor Tim Leedom. Barnes & Noble Community Relations Coordinator Liz Irwin called the book “too controversial for the bookstore’s conservative clientele” when Leedom approached a San Diego branch, proposing to have a book-signing of The Bookwith contributing author Steve Allen.

Allen was welcomed previously by a Barnes & Noble flagship store in Newport Beach, California, where hundreds of copies were sold.

The Book also contains freethought articles by Anne Gaylor, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Foundation.

Leedom called it ironic and shocking that the freethought anthology was considered bannable during a week set aside by booksellers to protest book banning.

Sheldon Gives House Prayer

House Democrats wrote a letter to Speaker Newt Gingrich protesting his decision to have arch-rightwinger Rev. Louis Sheldon deliver the morning invocation on Nov. 2.

Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey (D-CA) and 21 other Democrats noted that Sheldon, chair of the Traditional Values Coalition of 3,100 churches, “has made a career out of vilifying lesbians, gays and persons with AIDS.” Sheldon once proposed concentration camp-like refugee camps for AIDS patients.

Gringrich should not “provide bigots like Rev. Sheldon with an official platform” which “encourages . . . displays of hate,” wrote Woolsey and cohorts.

Sheldon has proposed a version of the so-called “religious equality amendment.”

During his invocation he beseeched the “Lord . . . in the name of Jesus Christ,” urged the conversion of the House to “obey your ways as taught in the Holy Scriptures,” and concluded:

“May we come to fully understand that the nation whose God is the Lord is the nation that shall be blessed.”

“Teaching Kids About GOD”

Target: Working Mother

The holiday issue of Working Mother,usually a rational periodical, devoted 5 pages to an article by Anne Cassidy, “Teaching kids about GOD,” which does not acknowledge that nonbelief exists, proposes proselytizing toddlers as young as three, and credits everything–children’s security, sense of justice, morality and cultural context–to religious beliefs. When a 3 year old asks you, “Who made this flower, Mommy?” she advises that you respond, “God made this flower.”

“Make Bible stories relevant . . . Above all, let your child know that, if she desires, the dialogue with God she began at birth can last all the days of her life.”

Working Mother does not print letters to the editor, but nevertheless should hear from freethinkers about the need to publish something positive about nonreligious working mothers!

Write: Managing Editor Andrea I. Burtman, or Dale W. Lang, Chair of the Board, c/o Working Mother, 230 Park Ave., New York NY 10169.

Freedom From Religion Foundation