S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 10, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0410.religion.htm


COMMENTARY
Wedge politics are alive and well in South Carolina
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 10 , 2005 - - South Carolina politicians seem to continue to use religion to push partisan political positions, but a new book reminds people that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.

Just this week, Statehouse Republicans pushed two social moral issues to the forefront - - a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage and a measure that would allow the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property. Both essentially are ways for fundamentalist Republicans to gin up their political base and keep dividing people with wedge issues.

What's alarming is that lawmakers are spending so much time on these issues when thousands of South Carolina's children go to school hungry, tens of thousands of families live in poverty, the state's education system is at the bottom, infant mortality rates are among the nation's highest and the state has the third highest unemployment rate in America.

Instead of working diligently and seriously to solve these problems, they fiddle-faddle with fringe issues to push their version of social engineering on a sleepy electorate. All the while, they know both issues likely will stay in the headlines because both will face constitutional challenges if they become law.

Ladies and gentlemen: it's South Carolina politics as usual.

But progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis says this kind of politics doesn't have to be played out every day in legislatures across the country.

"The religious and political Right gets the public meaning of religion mostly wrong - - preferring to focus only on sexual and cultural issues while ignoring the weightier matters of justice," Wallis writes in "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."

"And the secular Left doesn't seem to get the meaning and promise of faith for politics at all - - mistakenly dismissing spirituality as irrelevant to social change."

He says when either political party tries to use God for political purposes, it makes a bad political mistake. He writes his book is a challenge to the Right and the Left to shape up to allow the voice of religion to be heard to challenge the typical way of doing business.

"God's politics challenges narrow national, ethnic, economic, or cultural self-interest, reminding us of a much wider world and the creative human diversity of all those made in the image of the creator."

Wallis' argument, when boiled down, is that politicians shouldn't invoke the name of God or use religion to endorse their political positions. Instead, they should worry whether their positions are on God's side. In other words, they should look at issues and ask, "Is this what God would want?" or "Is this what Jesus would do?"

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: At the pumps

FEEDBACK: On education

KEEPING TRACK: New section

SCORECARD: Thumbs up/down and mixed reviews

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By shifting to this perspective, it's interesting to look at some current hot issues before the General Assembly:

  • Income tax cut. Wallis says budgets are moral documents because they highlight true priorities. The new $5.8 billion state budget, for example, currently includes an income tax cut for small businesses that will take $130 million out of the state revenue stream. With so many kids going to school hungry, is this what Jesus would want?

  • Same-sex marriage. A measure that calls for a constitutional amendment to "protect" traditional marriage also would institutionalize discrimination against gays and lesbians who want to be in recognized committed relationships. While the measure is moot because same-sex marriage already is illegal in South Carolina, Wallis' challenge reminds us that one of religion's fundamental responsibilities is to care and protect the vulnerable. So is this amendment what God would really want?

  • Hog bill. Development-backed legislators want to keep cities and counties from enacting tougher environmental rules than required by the state. But protecting God's earth can be considered a religious issue. Is damaging the earth by more development really what Buddha or the God of Mohammed or Jesus would want?

  • School funding. Is it fair to fund two kinds of school systems - - districts in urban and suburban areas with solid tax bases and good facilities versus poor, rural school districts with some third-world conditions? Does it reward those who are better off and fail to show compassion for those who live in poorer areas by denying similar educational services to them? Would God approve of this?

Regardless of your religion, "God's Politics" makes you think about how politicians and governments set fiscal responsibilities. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize quickly that everybody could do better.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
4/10: At the pumps

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK

4/7: More complete picture needed on rural schools

To the editor:

In the extensive local coverage of a lawsuit brought against the state by some school districts who claim unfair treatment, some underlying factors have been barely touched, others ignored.

  • For one thing, conditions in some of these districts did not pop up overnight. A history of indifference, waves of sectional rivalry, and political pandering have yielded to perhaps unreasonable local demands, and bills have become due.

  • A second issue: how much in state funds, over and above per-pupil allotment, has the state poured into these districts to patch up existing problems. If this were mentioned in the trials, it missed the news coverage.

  • How wisely have the districts used funds, local, state and federal, that were available - issues like bloated bureaucracy, surplus electronic gadgets, frivolous courses, and, worse, huge proportional budgets for public relations?

  • How much have the districts spent in the last ten years on sports and entertainment? Coaches salary supplements, real estate, athletic gear, band and cheerleader equipment and uniforms, transportation?

(It is worth noting that one of the complaining districts needs building funds, but was somehow able to fund a football team that reached the state finals. Another district just got an elaborate new high school building - complete with a football stadium.)

There is a moral issue here. The districts are spending taxpayer money to drag on this litigation, while the same taxpayers are paying dearly for the state to defend itself! So now a judge can decide what should rightly be decided by legislature?

-- Roy Hammond, Centenary, S.C.

4/5: Education agenda is clear as sunshine

To the editor:

In regards to the blab (Commentary, 3/20) about losing money on students leaving the public school system using vouchers, I have a little to add to the brouhaha.

With Public Schools retaining 49 percent of the income from taxes generated for students that would be out of the education system, I think you will agree the squawk from the Educational Elites [ EE’s] shows a low IQ.

After speaking to the office of Education at the State House I am assured 49 percent of this money will be kept right in the State educational coffers. Now let’s say for the sake of establishing a mental grid we have [say] 20,000 fewer students in the public classroom with 49 percent of the funding for these 20,000 students still in the EE’s pockets.

Well you can see now it would take a low IQ to complain of this fortune and this is what some are doing. It is a power play from people who are in need of something they didn’t get in the very public educational system they advocate if you ask me.

But then, I would be shunned at any state EE level talks as I have bad teeth, but hey, my mind works well and math is not too much for me, but then again my agenda is clear as sunshine.

-- Gary Rice, Columbia, SC


KEEPING TRACK

In this new section, we will keep track of Statehouse Report's record of forecasting what goes on in the legislature. For example, at the beginning of the year, a commentary called for no roads to be named for living officials. Sixteen days later, House Speaker David Wilkins introduced such a measure. Latest example:

In Statehouse Report:

3/20/05: "Siphoning public money for private education could lead to school resegregation, says the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, the much-respected African American minister at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston." More.

In other outlets:

4/2/05: "Now opponents say that tuition tax credits would in effect re-segregate the state's schools, with whites fleeing to private schools and public schools becoming increasingly black." The Economist magazine.

10/17/04: Radar Screen: Changes ahead in House leadership? 4/1/05: Wilkins may be appointed ambassador, successors lining up, Post and Courier
3/13/05: Sanford's wolf tactics wearing thin on lawmakers 3/21/05: Governor's style irks lawmakers, Post and Courier


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Edge. Hats off to Rep. Tracy Edge, R-Horry, for calling for Rudy Giuliani to return $80,000 from a speaking fee for a tsunami fund-raiser.

Dems. For two years, SC Democrats have let Gov. Mark Sanford get away with just about anything. Finally over the past week, they held a press conference criticizing his economic policies.

McConnell. Kudos to Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell for having the courage to stand up to Republican colleagues and vote against a same-sex marriage proposal because of its blatant unconstitutionality.

Thumbs down

Evergreen. The shipping line should owe more than $2 million for spilling oil and damaging South Carolina's coastline, but a judgment this week is a good start.

McMullen. SC Policy Council President Ed McMullen might want to pick somebody other than the late deposed Vice President Spiro Agnew as a role model for quotes in lambasting opponents of the governor's voucher program.


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