Rekha Basu: Christianity isn’t under attack; Reynolds implies otherwise 

Gun Rights

Consider this a wake-up call, because it’s anyone’s guess what could be coming next for Iowa unless we use our voices and our votes to stop it.

Did you ever wake up in such a state that you don’t recognize where you are?

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That’s me lately, and I don’t mean it in the ways you’re probably imagining. I mean it about this state, Iowa, and where it is these days.

Core freedoms we’ve taken for granted — to safeguard our property and our bodies, to love and worship (or not) as we choose — are being stripped or threatened. Then the rationalizations offered up for the changes turn logic on its head.

In signing her “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” into law, Gov. Kim Reynolds ironically declared, “The right of religious freedom is endowed upon us by our creator — not government.” But putting government into religion is exactly what she did, and not to promote religious tolerance or core teachings such as loving our neighbors and serving those in need.

The law allows people to cite their religious beliefs to discriminate against others, even in nonsecular, civil society. 

In the same week, the governor cited her personal views to justify curtailing abortion rights, though most Iowans support legal abortions. “As a pro-life governor, I will do everything I can to protect the innocent unborn and promote strong, healthy families,” she said of the upcoming Iowa Supreme Court ruling that will determine whether her post-six-weeks abortion ban can take effect soon.

More: Kim Reynolds got her revenge on public education, at the expense of vital teacher training

Planned Parenthood attorney Peter Im framed the issue this way: “This court has recognized that autonomy and dominion over one’s body goes to the very heart of what it means to be free.”

Freedoms for many Iowans are being tugged out like a rug from under us, replaced by the increasing exercise of autonomy from leadership that neither reflects the public’s will nor serves its needs. And it’s no longer a simple clash of Republican and Democratic priorities. The leadership’s deference to special interests and lobby groups such as big ag, religious institutions and the National Rifle Association trump traditional Republican priorities like lower taxes and less government interference in people’s lives.

Imagine how previous Republican Iowa leaders would have felt about compelling private property owners to let a private carbon-carrying-pipeline company drill their land to install pipelines with no public benefit.

Think of how hard former Gov. Bob Ray worked to have Iowa sponsor and welcome Vietnam War refugees. Now consider Reynolds’ new law empowering Iowa police to act like federal immigration agents and arrest any entering undocumented immigrant previously removed from Iowa or the nation. Where Ray set an example of empathy for families forced to flee their homelands, Reynolds portrays them as criminals.

More: Don’t hand over the authority of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to Kim Reynolds

Remember how in December, despite her claims to support families, the governor declined $29 million in federally funded grocery cards for 240,000 low-income Iowa children? She complained about childhood obesity. Now, she’s expanding healthy meals program with $900,000 (also federal money) by offering competitive grants to local organizations that may or may not be able fill the need.

Iowa leaders once prided and funded our public schools to be great. Now, through the voucher program, even current tuition-paying private-school students who don’t need the help get state money. And it goes to predominantly religious schools, which most private Iowa schools are. What should be a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state was gotten around by the state giving taxpayer money to parents instead of directly to the schools.

The damage isn’t just in the voucher law itself but in in the unilateral process used to achieve it. Remember in 2022, when some legislators in Reynolds’ own Republican Party opposed the voucher plan? She got others to challenge them in elections and win, using money from the Americans Federation For Children, a PAC started by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos’ goal was implementing vouchers around the country. That’s the same DeVos, the New York Times editorialized in 2021, “will be remembered as perhaps the most disastrous leader in the Education Department’s history.”  

To complete the cycle, McKenzie Snow, a former aide to DeVos, has now been confirmed by the Senate to head Iowa’s state Education Department. Every Democrat voted against Snow, who never held a teaching license, and whose previous education policy work involved school-choice advocacy.

More: Kim Reynolds stretches words’ meaning with paltry summer-food program

Whether through school vouchers, repeated moves to undermine abortion rights and transgender people, or her Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the governor doesn’t just put religion into public policy. As one observer of such measures points out in Rob Reiner’s documentary “God & Country,” “There is no religious freedom without freedom from religion.” Laws like these are founded on the faulty premise that Christianity is under attack, which the film contends is fueling a dangerous movement of Christian nationalism around the country. The Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol are one example.

Told mostly in the voices of former movement members, the film shows how the idea of persecution is being invoked nationwide with buzzwords like “woke” and “critical race theory” to undermine America’s growing multiculturalism. They’re spreading the false idea that America was founded as a Christian nation that is now under attack.

 In fact, as a narrator remind us, “The U.S. was the first country to have a secular constitution and no religious tests for public office.”

 A clip from 2016 inside Liberty University shows Donald Trump telling a crowd during his presidential campaign, “Christianity is under tremendous siege. … Christians don’t use their power. You have the strongest lobby ever, but I don’t hear about a Christian lobby.”

Trump got 81% of the votes of white evangelical Christians that year. Evangelical entrepreneurs are said to be raising billions of dollars for political campaigns that play on fear and anger and champion autocracy and authoritarianism.  

In a “free” nation or state, no one else gets to dictate how the rest of us live if we’re obeying the laws.

If you don’t believe in abortions, don’t have one.

Public money should be spent for public purposes. Consider this a wake-up call, because it’s anyone’s guess what could be coming next for Iowa unless we use our voices and our votes to stop it.

Rekha Basu is a longtime syndicated columnist, editorial writer and reporter, whose work has appeared in all but two U.S. states. She retired in 2022 as a columnist for The Des Moines Register.

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