One of the tiresome things about keeping an eye on what happens in Palmetto State politics is that the same topics keep raising their ugly heads, and as a result, the true business of the people is continually obscured. Such was the case again last week with the close of the legislative session and Gov. Mark Sanford's refusal to either sign or veto a bill that will create the "I Believe" license plate, featuring a cross superimposed over a stained glass window.
And this wasn't the only case where the state government ignored the separation of church and state either. I've written about this license plate, the anti-abortion "Choose Life" license plate, the latest Ten Commandments display, and a bill that would allow state and local governments to open their meetings with an invocation.
I have been nonplussed by the craven intentions of these bills' sponsors to throw a bone to "the base" back home. Nationally, conservative candidates face a daunting future, but in South Carolina, where we continue to live in the past, whipping up a frenzy over "values" is still a winning election gambit.
What bothers me is that for a guy who continually whines about fiscal responsibility and limited government, it's hard to believe that Mark Sanford would blow off a "gimmie" to show off his conservative/libertarian credentials.
The federal courts have already set standards for state and local governments to open meetings with religious invocations. All S. 638 does is mandate that the state attorney general's office defend those governmental entities from inevitable civil liberties litigation. That has to be paid for somehow, and the "somehow" is you and me.
The General Assembly went way south by passing S. 1329, creating the "I Believe" license, an unconstitutional piece of legislation that endorses one faith over all others. The attorney general will be forced to defend that one too when the ACLU or some other group files suit, at great cost to the taxpayers.
Then there's the matter of the Ten Commandments bill which allows schools to showcase the Old Testament passage in a display alongside the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and, in a patronizing gesture to the state's black voters, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.
Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) submitted an amendment which would include the Lord's Prayer in the display. To no one's surprise, the amendment was overwhelmingly approved by his colleagues. Trouble is, the Lord's Prayer has nothing to do with American law and everything to do with religion. This law too will be subject to a round of expensive litigation.
But the trouble with wasting the taxpayers' money was less of a threat to lawmakers than the alternative. As Sen. Larry Martin (R-Greenville) told The Greenville News, "Some people felt like there was no way they could go back home and explain why they voted against the Lord's Prayer."
All Gov. Sanford and the General Assembly accomplish with these zero-sum shenanigans is the diminution of faith. The governor acknowledged this in his statement on his non-action on the "I Believe" tags: "While I do, in fact, believe, it is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one's faith ought to be in how one lives one's life. Galatians talks of the fruit of the spirit as peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and more. And, accordingly, if God is working in one's life, these things will say what no license plate will ever say."
Too bad Marky-Mark has neither the sense to realize that the "fruit of the spirit" is missing from these various legislative offerings nor the stones to back up what he says with deeds.