Ken Buck: “I Don’t Believe in the Separation of Church and State”

Jodi Jacobson

A video unearthed by ThinkProgress finds Ken Buck telling a a room full of GOP supporters that he "does not believe int he separation of church and state," because it is not in the Constitution. Oh, and his religious beliefs apparently don't proscribe lying.

In a video unearthed by ThinkProgress, Ken Buck tells a crowd of GOP supporters that he just doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state.  Church being the operative word because of course if you are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or “other” you probably don’t belong in Ken Buck’s America anyway.

In the video (below), Buck says:

I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution. While we have a Constitution that is very strong in the sense that we are not gonna have a religion that’s sanctioned by the government, it doesn’t mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion. And so that, that concerns me a great deal. So I think there are cultural differences, I think there, we are as strong as we, our culture, our culture gives us our strength, I guess is the best way to put that. And, and I am worried about the fact that we seem to be walking away from culture.

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He then goes on to lie, er, bear false witness, about President Obama’s celebration of Christmas:

And, and one thing that President Obama has done that I would certainly speak about is calling the Christmas tree, which has historically been called a Christmas tree in Washington DC, a holiday tree. It’s just flat wrong in my mind.

Except this is not true.

Ten Commandments, anyone?

News Politics

Forced Ultrasound, “Informed Consent,” and Women’s Health in Texas: The Sad State of the State

Andrea Grimes

When Virginia legislators first began considering a forced trans-vaginal ultrasound bill, progressives wondered: "What kind of world are we living in, when "informed consent" is tantamount to state-sanctioned rape?" Here's what kind of world: the kind wherein a mandatory ultrasound law scads worse than the proposed Virginia bill has already been in place for five months. In Texas. And right now there may be no feasible legal way to stop it.  

Last month, when news spread that Virginia legislators were considering a forced trans-vaginal ultrasound bill, the uproar was loud, clear and immediate: women would never stand for this invasive and unnecessary law. Politicos and pop-culture icons alike spoke out against the Republican-lead legislation. What kind of world are we living in, reasonable people wondered, when “informed consent” is tantamount to state-sanctioned rape?

Here’s what kind of world: the kind wherein a mandatory ultrasound law scads worse than the proposed Virginia bill has already been in place for five months. In Texas. 

“Texas has the most extreme law that’s being enforced right now,” says the Center For Reproductive Rights’ Julie Rikelman, the lead attorney on the CRR’s lawsuit filed against the Texas legislation. Despite the sympathetic leanings of a federal district judge who initially ruled on the case, the suit has more or less been stalled by a vehemently anti-choice Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied the CRR’s requested injunction against enforcement last month.Now, that means that all aspects of the law–mandated ultrasounds, 24-hour waiting periods, and forced speech–are now in full force in Texas.

Intially the CRR was able to gain an injunction against enforcing the parts of the law they argued in court violated doctors’ First Amendment rights. But twenty-five days ago, they lost that injunction and doctors began being legally required to verbally describe the sonogram image, make heartbeat audio available if possible, and offer women the opportunity to view the image.

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And while the mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound requirement has garnered a great deal of interest and outrage, Texas providers tell RHRealityCheck that the “most onerous” part of the law, for both providers and abortion-seeking women, has been the mandatory 24-hour wait period between the required ultrasound and the abortion itself.

“The 24-hour waiting period with two face-to-face visits required, that was just incredible,” says Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder of Whole Women’s Health, a Texas-based health care center with five locations providing abortion care, STI treatment and basic women’s health exams. Now, women must take two days off of work and invest three to four hours each day to get the safe, legal procedure they’re entitled to by law.

“Women have just been absolutely furious about having to come twice,” says Hagstrom Miller, who adds that 65 percent of abortion-seeking clients at Whole Women’s Health are already mothers. It’s not just two days off work that creates an unnecessary hassle for most of these women–it’s also finding two days of child care. 

“Because they’re already moms, there’s nothing in the ultrasound that is surprising to them,” says Hagstrom Miller. “It’s not like they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know i was pregnant.'”

Despite passionate claims otherwise from anti-choice individuals, transvaginal ultrasounds and 24-hour wait periods do not, in fact, appear to induce women to opt out of abortion.

No women have changed their minds, says Hagstrom Miller, out of the hundreds who’ve come to Whole Women’s Health since the mandatory ultrasound law went into action. Two or three times, she says, women have elected to hear a heartbeat.

“I know of no patients, and I’m talking hundreds, who’ve changed their minds because they saw the ultrasound,” says Hagstrom Miller.

Because her clinics have always provided ultrasounds to women to look at and even take home, “It’s not some mystery.” Indeed, it’s standard practice.

The Texas law stipulates that providers–and the ultrasound must be conducted by the abortion provider her- or himself, not a technician–must use the technology that provides the best image of the embryo or fetus, which means trans-vaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions before about seven weeks into their pregnancy, regardless of whether they’re opting for a medical abortion (i.e., the abortion pill) or a surgical abortion. 

Ultrasounds themselves are not the problem–again, says Hagstrom Miller, they’re part of standard medical practice and most providers have used them when they and their patients feel it’s appropriate to confirm and date pregnancy.

“Ultrasound is a simple way to do that, but it’s not the only way to do it,” explains Hagstrom Miller. The mandatory ultrasound “sidesteps the medical profession” and takes the decision out of the hands of medical professionals and puts it into the hands of the government.

And according to the CRR’s Julie Rikelman, the State of Texas is also putting words in the mouths of doctors. 

“There are serious constitutional issues here,” she says, adding that she believes the Fifth Circuit Court’s denial of the injunction–intended to be in place while the lawsuit winds its way through the justice system–was “absolutely legally the wrong decision.”

Because the Fifth Circuit–“a very conservative court of appeals,” according to Rikelman–has, unusually, reserved the right to rule on all further appeals in the case, there is little cause to be optimistic about the CRR’s case falling on anything but deaf, anti-choice ears. To that end, says Rikelman, they’re reevaluating their strategy in Texas and looking at challenges to the laws in other states.

“Since we do have challenges going in other courts and other jurisdictions, we do have to think about how can we make the best case for doctors and women around the country.”

But just because the CRR has run up against a judicial roadblock in Texas doesn’t mean that Texans are giving up. Especially online, the fight continues with activists taking to social media, wherein the popular and cheeky Keep Your Boehner Out Of My Uterus Tumblr has been posting an ongoing day-by-day reminder that Texas’ ultrasound law isn’t going away, and the #TXreprohealth hashtag continues to gain in popularity.

And while the Texas legislature doesn’t meet this year, Texas voters can look forward to elections in November, when they’ll have a chance to replace anti-choice representatives who have already moved on from the ultrasound issue and are now openly attacking women’s access to basic reproductive health care and contraception in Texas.

Late last month, conservative lawmakers officially signed a rule turning down federal funding for the Medicaid’s Women’s Health Program. Rather than allow Planned Parenthood to receive WHP funds, Texas legislators want to deny 130,000 low-income and uninsured women access to contraceptives, cancer screenings and basic reproductive health care at clinics that do not provide abortions.

Whether that will happen for a certainty remains to be seen–the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have the ultimate say, and the Obama administration has said that excluding Planned Parenthood is a violation of the Social Security Act (which guarantees patients can get care from the qualified agency of their choosing) and thereby illegal.

If the WHP falters in Texas, as it may do as soon as March 14, that will leave the aforementioned 130,000 women without access to care on top of the 180,000 women per year who lost access to care last fall when Texas slashed its family planning budget. That brings the total to 310,000 women in Texas stranded with no reproductive health care in sight.

As Amy Hagstrom Miller points out, that’s a less than effective way to prevent the number one cause of abortion: unwanted pregnancy.

“I think it’s a tragedy that the very people that say they are interested in preventing abortion are cutting out the best way we’ve found in Texas to do so.”

Commentary Religion

Texas, Sex, and Separation of Church and State

Amanda Marcotte

The candidacy of presidential contender Texas Governor Rick Perry highlights all the problems with the conservative, anti-sex movement and their investment in theocracy. 

Governor Rick Perry of Texas has thrown his hat into the presidential contender ring, and his nascent campaign has quickly came to demonstrate why the blurring of the distinctions between church and state are so dangerous, especially to women.  His campaign has surprisingly been even more of a demonstration of this than that of Michele Bachmann’s, even though the mainstream media consensus is Bachmann is more of a theocrat.  Part of the reason is that Perry has been the governor of Texas for over a decade now, and his experience and power as an executive has simply given him more chances to blur the lines….and more reasons to be called out for it. 

The incident that got the most attention was Perry’s prayer rally in Houston, TX, where Perry, in what many (including myself) consider a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, led 30,000 evangelical Christians in a day of prayers for the state and the nation. Perry’s contempt for constitutional restrictions on government establishing an official religion throws into stark relief how much the anti-choice movement, to which he is currently pandering as hard as he can, is basically just one arm of an overall theocratic movement in the U.S. to wed state to a very particular interpretation of the Bible. 

To begin with, Perry did show some sign of willingness to separate church and state while governor, when he issued an executive order requiring girls in Texas entering the 6th grade to be vaccinated against HPV. This is how it should be.  Regardless of one’s personal religious convictions about female sexuality, when you’re the governor, your job is not setting the religious dogma for the state, but prioritizing the public’s health.  HPV is a public health issue (just because you personally may feel contracting HPV is just desserts for having sex, the people you pass it to may not be burdened with such anti-sex superstitions) and Perry acted like an executive handling this public health issue, and not a theocrat foisting his own sexual judgments on his citizens. 

Of course he had to take it all back, claiming it was all a mistake and that he should have left the decision to the legislature, knowing full well the fundamentalist-heavy state legislature would have killed the requirement.  The fact that Perry feels he has to apologize for putting the health of Texas girls ahead of fundamentalist over-the-top hatred of female sexuality–hatred that now runs so deep that they support letting 4,000 women a year die of cervical cancer rather than do anything that could be construed as accepting that sex happens—is just one example of how much the theocrats have taken control of our political process.  And how they intend to flex that power by attacking the very concept of a healthy sexuality. 

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Also indicative of the problem was Perry’s response to a question about sex education in light of empirical evidence that abstinence-only doesn’t work.  Perry, unable to deal with the conflict between the demands of fundamentalists that secular government promote their dangerous views of sex as deeply sinful and the demands of public health, flubbed the question. Paul Waldman of the American Prospect explained the flub:

Liberals may think that conservatives support abstinence education because they believe it will reduce teen pregnancy, when the truth is that stopping teen pregnancy is at best a minor consideration for conservatives. If there’s going to be any discussion of sex in school at all, they believe it ought to express the categorical moral position that sex is vile and dirty and sinful, until you do it with your spouse, at which point it becomes beautiful and godly (you’ll forgive a bit of caricature). The fact that abstinence-only education is far less effective at reducing teen pregnancy than comprehensive sex-ed isn’t something they’re pleased about, but it doesn’t change their conviction about the moral value that ought to be expressed……

So while it’s true that Rick Perry is not a particularly smart guy, the difficulty he has here comes from the fact that his stance on sex education is about 95 percent moral and 5 percent practical.

Waldman’s right, but the problem runs even deeper than liberal empiricism vs. conservative “morality.”  (I question a “morality” that hates something as life-affirming as sex, and believes that it’s so sinful it should result in disease, life destruction, and even death for people who engage in it outside of their incredibly strict parameters.)  The problem goes right to the separation of church and state.  The belief that sex is “immoral” isn’t a standard-issue moral belief shared across cultural or religious differences, unlike other moral beliefs such as the wrongness of murder or stealing.  This is a question of religious freedom, and whether or not religious beliefs that sex is wrong should be imposed on minors.  Standing with religious freedom means standing with comprehensive sex education and mandatory HPV vaccines, on the grounds that people who get these things will still be free to believe sex is wrong.  In fact, whether or not your religion teaches that sex is dirty, you still benefit from vaccination and education—that way, if you slip up and have sex, you can have a clean, pure guilt trip of self-hatred without having a bunch of unnecessary health problems.  And if you ever get over your commitment to such a misanthropic, sex-phobic faith, you will be able to start your new, sex-positive life with a clean bill of health.

But even more for the rest of us, we should have secular, evidence-based policy instead of fundamentalist faith-based policy not just because it has better health outcomes for everyone, but also because the belief that church and state should be separate was baked into our Constitution right from the beginning.