During the waning months of 1998, Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull signed a declaration proclaiming Arizona Bible Week. The declaration states that the Bible is "a constant source of moral and spiritual guidance for Americans throughout our history." It urges "all of our citizens to participate in this observance by reading the Bible and discovering for themselves its values for personal and community life."
Governor Hull reacted huffily to critics who pointed out that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the endorsement of any religion. Her first line of defense: to insist that the proclamation had no religious intent. Reading the lines quotes above, the religious nature of the proclamation is clear.
Once Hull realized this initial defense wouldn't wash, she passed the buck, noting that every U.S. President since Franklin Roosevelt has lent their support to Bible Week. Our mothers would recognize that line anywhere, and we all know what they'd say: If every U.S. President since Franklin Roosevelt jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too? It's truly perplexing that a political leader who just endorsed a religious document with strong moral codes would retreat to the moral low ground of "everybody's doing it."
Besides, not everybody's doing it. At the same time that Governor Hull dug her heels in and prepared a lawsuit to shove the Bible into State Government, Tucson Mayor George Miller saw the error of that way. Mayor Miller declined to proclaim Bible Week, making specific reference to the Constitution and to the diversity of American religious and irreligious life.
This southwestern brouhaha is instructive in two ways: first, for those of us who support true religious liberty (and not the "liberty" of religions to push their way into our lives in an unwelcome manner), it is part of a wakeup call: arrogant religious zealots are using proclamations like this and legal provisions such as "Charitable Choice" to sneak their way into a theocracy. Second, the distinction between the actions of the Governor and those of the Mayor show that the advance of the theocracy is not inevitable: when citizens pay attention and spread the word, our liberties can be defended. It's up to those of us who hold freedom of and from religion dear to speak out and let it be known that (contrary to what George Bush has publicly stated) we are deserving of full citizenship in this nation and that we refuse to be shoved aside by clerical bullies.
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