Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Assembly Speaker defends use of state-funded resources to proselytize religion

Would Robin Vos afford a Muslim legislator the same courtesy? It's doubtful...

State Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) is taking some heat for religious comments he made on a YouTube video. Specifically, Allen is getting criticism for using state resources to produce a video that encourages individuals to convert to Christianity.

“For those who may watch this who are not Christians, I invite you to consider the hope offered by the Prince of Peace,” Allen said in the video, before going on to quote several biblical verses.

Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha)
via YouTube
Allen is free to promote his religious beliefs on his own time. But using state-funded resources -- amounting to using taxpayer dollars -- to proselytize his religion flies in the face of what the First Amendment is all about: that government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” nor promote one belief over others.

There certainly is gray area to consider when it comes to the separation between church and state. Churches can rent out public school space, for example, to hold Sunday services. But the school itself cannot advertise or promote the event, unless it is open to promoting other events for religious services of other beliefs. Schools cannot lead the student body in religious prayers, as another example, even non-denominational prayers that are meant to be more inclusive.

Rep. Allen’s actions do not allow other faiths to have equal promotion, so it is a clear misuse of state resources.

Not everyone agrees that this is important. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, also a Republican, says that people are making too big a deal on the video, and that Allen’s message was wholly appropriate.

But I’m curious whether Vos would say something similar if a person of a different faith were promoting his or her beliefs. If a Muslim legislator had encouraged people to convert to Islam, there would probably be a huge uproar from the right, and I’m willing to wager that Vos would suddenly be against such actions.

Vos, after all, backed calls to prevent Syrian refugees from being allowed to enter the United States. “With no guarantee that a refugee does not have an association with radical Islamic terrorists, we cannot take any chances,” Vos said. “This is not the time to open our doors to Syrian refugees.”

Vos had no reason besides their Islamic faith to suggest a broad ban on Syrian refugees. He’s also been silent on whether Christian-leaning terrorists, like those that target Planned Parenthood facilities, should render restrictions on Christians from being able to enter the country.

So it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest he’d be against promoting Islam using state resources either. (And if Vos is anything like Gov. Scott Walker, he’d meltdown and scoff at the line of questioning itself, rather than answering it at all.)

Scott Allen’s usage of state property to disseminate his religious views was an abuse of taxpayer dollars. Robin Vos and others shouldn’t defend that action, and should say that Allen erred in doing so.

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