Bible barons: How the GOP uses religion to keep voters captive to corporate ideology

If you want to know why nine out of the 10 poorest states are located in the hyper-religious South, look no further

Published March 4, 2014 1:43PM (EST)

  (AP/Susan Walsh/Reuters/Larry Downing/photo collage by Salon)
(AP/Susan Walsh/Reuters/Larry Downing/photo collage by Salon)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetLast week, a bill to make way for the display of Ten Commandments in public buildings, such as courthouses and schools, passed out of an Alabama Senate committee, sending it to the full Senate for a vote as early as next week.

If you want to know why nine out of the 10 poorest states are located in the hyper-religious South, look no further than this calculated right-wing political play, which is designed for one purpose: to ensure Southern and Sunbelt voters continue to vote against their own self-economic interests.

If passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, the state would put a constitutional amendment on the next ballot to let Alabama voters decide the issue. The theocratic authors and the Republican Party sponsors of this bill are fully cognizant of the fact that the bill is unconstitutional, and thus it will, inevitably, be struck down by the courts.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." It is the very basis of the separation of church and state.

For state Sen. Trip Pittman (R-AL), the constitution is a secondary concern. "We talk about the constitutionality of them, but we have to understand the purpose of these is the laws of God," he said. "And we think they may have passed irrelevance because of the constitutional question, but beyond that, which is the most important, it's also about behavior and conduct through the ages."

State Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R-AL) declared, “School shootings, patricide and matricide are due to the Ten Commandments not being displayed in schools and other government buildings.” Bridges also said, "The Tenth Amendment [sic] was adopted before the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea because Moses didn't get to cross the Red Sea.”

While both Pittman and Bridges may sound like idiots, they’re actually shrewd political strategists, for the promise of tax cuts for the rich is hardly an effective platform for rallying the Republican Party base in a midterm election year. The promise of the Ten Commandments, however, is how you get a person without healthcare to vote for the party whose platform is based on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

According to the Pew Research Center, Alabama is the second most religious state in the nation with 74 percent of residents saying religion is very important in their lives. Number one is Mississippi. It is a pitiful irony that those states that are most religious are also states with the most individual suffering. More than 30 percent of the children in these two states suffer extreme poverty. In both states, the primary reason for abject poverty is that more than a third of children have parents who lack secure employment, decent wages, and healthcare. But thanks to Jesus, these poor saps vote for the party that rejects Medicaid expansion, opposes early education expansion, legislates larger cuts to education, and slashes food stamps to make room for oil and agriculture subsidies on top of tax cuts and loopholes for corporations and the wealthy.

All this despair comes courtesy of low-information voters being duped by the corporate elite to vote against their own economic self-interest. The corporate elite and their political appointees have convinced tens of millions of Americans that a vote for the Ten Commandments is more important to a Christian’s needs than a vote against cuts in education spending, food stamp reductions, the elimination of school lunches and the abolition of healthcare programs.

It’s no secret that social wedge issues are used by the Right to drive low-income people to the polls. The point is that in an overly religious country it works too well, and to America’s detriment. Pushing sophisticated tax schemes for already wealthy venture capitalists, like the 16 percent tax rate Mitt Romney gets away with, doesn’t excite the base. On the other hand, “taking back the country” from the gay, socialist, Muslim, liberal agenda does, as do issues like abortion and stopping sodomy. The Right’s passion for these social issues often makes them the loudest in these debates, and the sheer volume, which is amplified through the right-wing echo chambers, makes progressives limit themselves.

Mississippi and Alabama are not isolated examples. The three other worst states, in terms of children living in extreme poverty, are Arizona, Nevada and Louisiana. Other than having Republican state legislatures, what do these five states share in common? All five enacted anti-union "right-to-work" laws that funnel more people into poverty as a result of creating pathetically low wage conditions, while corporations in each state are thriving with record levels of profits. Three of the states, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, have rejected Medicaid expansion. According to the site,

In all, there are 13 states not participating in the free expansion (of Medicaid) and six others leaning toward non-participation. Those 19 states — to no-one’s surprise — are all Republican-controlled and more than pleased to prevent millions of their residents, especially children, from benefiting from the most basic health care provisions. From a Republican perspective, it likely makes sense to keep the poorest, and youngest, residents in ill-health to go along with daily hunger, thereby rounding out an existence steeped in suffering and despair.

Nine of the top 10 poorest states are found in the South. Thompson writes, “It’s a region [the South] that stands out from the nation at large for its slavish devotion to economic policies that increase the burden on its poor, rather than allowing its lower and working classes to share in the financial harvest that its politicians and business leaders are so eager to tout in speeches.” A book titled Taxing the Poor looks at the way we tax the poor in the United States, particularly in the South, where poor families are often subject to income taxes, and where regressive sales taxes apply even to food for home consumption. The authors, Newman and O’Brien, write:

The legacy of the past — southern opposition to property taxation in the nineteenth century — continues to define the disparity in tax structure and revenue we see today. ... That legacy has cost the southern states dearly [and] is placing a heavy burden on the rest of the country as well. The pattern is distinctive and destructive. The problem is very much with us today in part because ... very high barriers to change are in place throughout the South and have been for decades.

The Republican Party, particularly in the South, will always dredge up these cultural issues to ensure its base remains a captive tool of corporate ideology. That way its corporate sponsors can maintain a perpetually impoverished lower class from which to draw its cheap labor.

By CJ Werleman

CJ Werleman is the author of "Crucifying America" and "God Hates You. Hate Him Back." You can follow him on Twitter:  @cjwerleman


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