Uniting church and state
Old-time Baptists supported the separation of church and state, but political conservatives hijacked the denomination a few years back, aligning it with the Republican Party and shifting its emphasis from keeping religion out of government to keeping Democrats out of government.
That transformation of the largest religious group in Arkansas helps explain why any proposal for religious tolerance is apt to be received coolly in the Arkansas legislature these days. Indeed, the current legislative session has been pretty much consumed by theological differences, the Christian fundamentalist majority seeking to force its own beliefs on everyone else.
Still, one might have expected that the House of Representatives would go along, if only reluctantly, with a mild resolution by Rep. Buddy Blair, D-Fort Smith, asking the House to affirm “support of the principle of separation of church and state.” This is no more than the U.S. Constitution and the Arkansas Constitution require.
The House considers those two documents obsolete, evidently. Only 39 members voted for Blair’s resolution, 44 voted against it, and 17 didn’t vote, which is the same as voting no. Baptist Republicans like Mark Martin of Prairie Grove were in the vanguard of the opposition, though not all of the opponents were Baptists and/or Republicans.
What will the schoolteachers who bring civics classes to the Capitol tell their charges after a vote like this? That religious freedom is no longer necessary, or desirable? Surely not. The principle is as important as it always was. Better to face facts and explain that a majority of the members of the Arkansas House of Representatives simply don’t understand what it means to be an American. And to point out that these exceptionally confused lawmakers are the fruits of term limits. Old-fashioned legislators and old-fashioned Baptists understood church and state better.
At last the turmoil of the Carolyn Staley administration is over. Now the turmoil of the Pat O’Brien administration has begun. Is there no competent, level-headed person to serve as Pulaski County clerk?
O’Brien is harassing the office’s employees in the name of “personnel evaluation,” forcing those who want to keep their jobs to write essays for him on the subject of “an adversity that you have overcome in your life,” explaining how the adversity arose, how the writer overcame it, and the lessons learned from the experience. Not only does the required essay intrude on employees’ privacy — bra sizes may be next — it has nothing to do with efficient operation of the clerk’s office. What this sort of thing measures is not who is the best worker, but who is the best b.s. artist. Only other b.s. artists value that skill highly.