Tag Archives: legislatures

Q And A

Last Sunday, as those of you who read my posted “sermon” will recall, I spoke to the Danville Unitarians. At the conclusion of my talk, I engaged in a brief question-and-answer session, and a couple of those questions echoed comments sometimes posted here.

For example, one parishioner asked what one citizen can do about our unrepresentative  legislature, given the reality of Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering. It’s a reasonable question, given the lack of mechanisms available–we lack a citizens’ initiative or referendum, and a friend of mine who cares a lot about the issue (and not so incidentally spent several years as a judge on Indiana’s Supreme Court) tells me he sees nothing in the state constitution that might be used to overturn partisan redistricting.

My only answer rests on the fact that the most nefarious result of gerrymandering is vote suppression. Hoosiers who live in House and Senate districts considered “safe” for one party or another (and yes, there are a few safe Democratic districts, thanks to the mechanism known as “packing,” aka cramming as many voters of the “other party” into as few districts as possible) tend to stay home. Why bother to vote, if the result is foreordained? 

The voters who stay home are overwhelmingly those of the “loser” party. That’s especially the case in places where the loser party hasn’t bothered to field a candidate.

But here’s the dirty little secret: in a number of those “safe” districts, if there was a massive turnout, the “losers” could win!  That’s because, in a number of Indiana’s rural districts, Democrats have failed to go to the polls.

There are two reasons for that.

Reason one: When an acquaintance of mine who ran in one such district went door-to-door, she was astonished by the number of people who expressed surprise that there were Democrats living in the area. Years of being told that they were rare exceptions had beaten them down, and added to the belief that they were rare–and powerless.

Reason two: as another member of the congregation noted, the suburban/bedroom communities around Indianapolis and other urban areas have been growing significantly–and much of that growth comes from young, educated people looking for less-expensive housing and able to work remotely at least part of the time. Given the significant political divide between people with a college degree and those without, it’s fair to predict that many–if not most– of those new residents have more progressive political orientations.

It’s obviously impossible to know how politically significant those two observations are unless many more people vote. So my answer to the young woman who asked that question was: do everything you can to get out the vote. We know is that those engaging in the redistricting process rely upon prior years’ turnout when drawing their district lines. If longtime residents of the “other” party who haven’t previously gone to the polls were suddenly to do so–and if newcomers with different values and concerns join them–a lot of those presumably “safe” districts will no longer be so safe.

There was another question that struck me as important. A young man followed up the previous question with what he characterized as an “expanded version.” What could congregations do? Not as individuals, but as congregations.

It was a great question, because one of the most annoying aspects of our terrible legislature is the serene belief of far too many of its members that God is on their side. (Their God hates the same people they do…) When someone like me–Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian– comes to testify, it’s easy to ignore that testimony. 

But when a church lobbies or testifies, it’s a lot harder to dismiss out of hand.

We sometimes forget (as our legislature clearly does) that not all religions–or even all Christian denominations– endorse the punitive doctrines of the fundamentalists who control today’s MAGA Republicans. There are enormous differences–not just between religions, but between denominations of the Christianity that dominates American culture. It’s past time for  the many congregations that preach love and acceptance, embrace modernity and equality and care about the “least of us,” to speak up at the Indiana Statehouse.


The day before yesterday, I posted about a Christian legislator who had the guts to challenge a performative Christian lawmaker on biblical grounds. We need more people like that authentically religious legislator, and we especially need more congregations willing to challenge hateful and discriminatory measures at the Indiana Statehouse.

Those are the challenges to which our pathetic lawmakers should have to respond. Not to the “rule of law”  and “fair play” people like yours truly, but to the co-religionists they  inaccurately claim to represent.

Civics Education Should Start with Legislators

I’ve been pretty hard on Indiana’s General Assembly, and I’d argue deservedly so, but I certainly don’t want to give anyone the impression that we Hoosiers have cornered legislative incompetence. Over at Peacock Panache, for example, Tim Peacock reports on a bill introduced in Arizona, in the wake of Governor Brewer’s veto of that state’s badly misnamed “Religious Liberty” bill.

HB-2481, also called “Arizona’s First Freedom Act,” seeks to protect those solemnizing marriage in Arizona to protect them from ceremonies they do not want to participate in. Specifically, the GOP is marketing the legislation as protecting ministers from having to marry LGBT couples as it violates their freedom of religion.
Are the bill’s sponsors really that ignorant, or are they just playing to the perceived ignorance of their constituents?
The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause already allows ministers to limit religious services as they alone see fit. No minister can be forced to preside over the nuptials of people in violation of his or her beliefs. Free Exercise allows any cleric to decline to perform any wedding: intermarriages, marriages of divorced people, same-sex unions….whatever his or her doctrine proscribes.
These clerical decisions cannot be overruled by government, thanks to the Separation of Church and State that so many conservatives insist we don’t have.
No statute is necessary to preserve this right. Any first-year law student who didn’t know that would be unceremoniously booted out of law school, and any lawmaker who is ignorant of so basic a principle of American law should forfeit re-election.
I really wish the people demagoguing about religious liberty would visit a high school class on the Constitution and discover what rights they actually do and don’t have. That won’t happen, of course, because they are thoroughly uninterested in accuracy. They are pursuing an agenda.
And people with an agenda read the Constitution the same way they read their bibles, if they read them at all: very selectively.