Friday, December 30, 2005

Is Jesus Still Welcome In Indiana

Is Jesus still welcome in Indiana? That’s the question Indiana Family Institute President Curt Smith asked recently in an appeal letter to his supporters for tax-deductible contributions and support of the IFI’s legislative agenda for 2006. Smith and the IFI tell supporters they will do everything they can to fight the Indiana Civil Liberties Union’s “intolerance for Christianity” and to fight to save the institution of marriage. “Just $25, $50 or more can provide an eternity of benefits,” Smith promises.

As Smith describes it, the big, bad Indiana Civil Liberties Union “wants to ban prayer in the name of Jesus from the State’s House of Representatives,” referring to the recent ruling of Judge David Hamilton in a suit brought against the Indiana House of Representatives by the ICLU on behalf of several citizen plaintiffs. Smith tells his supporters:

I want you to know that intolerance for Christianity will not be tolerated by the IFI. After all, there is a predominance of Christians in this state! We are doing everything we can to fight this suit. We are your voice on issues of religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Of course, the precious right of religious freedom is precisely the reason Judge Hamilton ruled against sectarian prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives to prevent state-sponsored preference of one religion over another. The ruling is hardly an assault on Christianity as Smith suggests. The House of Representatives is free to allow clergy to deliver non-sectarians prayers.

The use of this issue in Smith’s fundraising appeal letter is further evidence that the Christian right, and its favorite ally in the General Assembly, House Speaker Brian Bosma, are continuing to fight Hamilton’s ruling for partisan, political gain as opposed to any valid religious freedom claim. The prayer issue becomes just another wedge issue to drive voter turnout and to raise money in an election year just like the group has used SJR 7, the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages.

Protecting marriages is a high priority for the IFI. Although the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the constitutional ban on same sex marriages earlier this year (the first in a two-step process before it can be submitted to voters), Smith tells his supporters something quite different. “Thanks to the Massachusetts court that ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, a strong push for similar legislation is gaining momentum in our state.” Smith asserts. In reality, there has been little momentum to date to stop the passage of the SJR 7 or overturn Indiana’s statutory ban on same sex marriages, let alone momentum for the passage of gay marriage legislation.

But gay marriages aren’t the only threat to marriage. “The other dangerous enemy of marriage in our state is the No-Fault Divorce policy,” Smith says. Before the enactment of Indiana’s current no-fault divorce law, it was necessary for the party petitioning for divorce to show cause, such as infidelity or mental or physical cruelty. This added to the burden of obtaining a divorce, which was particularly difficult for battered spouses. Smith sees it quite differently. He says:

Under Indiana’s current No-Fault Divorce policy, marriage licenses are not worth the paper they’re printed on because anyone can void them at any time for any reason. Furthermore, we’ve seen the divorce rate rise dramatically since No-Fault was instituted. Yes, same-sex marriage and no-fault divorce are a threat to our families. None of us can “feel safe” just because we’re happily married.

In addition to banning gay marriages, Smith’s and the IFI’s solution to the problem is the “covenant marriage.” According to Smith, this legislation would give couples the option to voluntarily designate their union as a covenant marriage. A covenant marriage could not be easily broken. “Couples would be required to complete pre-marital counseling and agree to further marital counseling should difficulties arise,” Smith says. A couple could break the marriage contract under exceptions, such as adultery. “It would eliminate the “irreconcilable differences” excuse,” Smith adds. Oh—and Smith offers this extra bit of incentive for the legislation: “Arkansas, Louisiana and Arizona all offer the Covenant Marriage option.”

The real reason behind the push for the covenant marriage is the financial opportunity it would provide to religious-based marriage counseling services. This law would provide quite a little cottage industry for religious groups affiliated with the IFI to handle the pre-marital and post-marital counseling, which couples will be required to take if the legislation becomes law.

Smith also has plans to use public dollars to fund private, religious schools. SB 281 will provide an educational tax credit to help parents choose a non-public school (including a religious school) or another public school. It also would provide scholarships for children to attend private, religious schools. Indiana’s constitution specifically prohibits the use of public funds for any religious institution.

And don’t forget HB 1841. That legislation will revoke state funding for Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute. The work of its founder, Alfred Kinsey, revolutionized our understanding of human sexuality. The impact of Institute’s work in the areas of sex, gender and reproduction over the past 50 plus years has been immeasurable and has brought great notoriety to IU. The idea of de-funding the Institute would result in a significant loss to the University and our state.

Remember, the IFI is supposed to be a non-partisan, non-profit organization, and it is subject to restrictions on its lobbying activities. As is case with Advance America and the American Family Association, Smith’s group is nothing more than a partisan special interest group. It is an outrage that taxpayers continue to subsidize their activities year after year.

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