The American Atheists’ annual ranking names Arkansas among the worst states in the country for separation of religion and government.
This is not exactly a surprise. Arkansas law favors religion, or a certain flavor of religion, in many respects. It is wielded as a tool of discrimination against disfavored minorities and ignored when circumstances demand — such as the towering hypocrisies of Sens. Bob Ballinger and Trent Garner in opposing a haven for legal refugees. Says the Atheists’ news release:
Religious equality is under attack in Arkansas. Sadly, this is about what we expect from the state that is home to Jason Rapert, the Christian Nationalist state senator we’re suing for suppressing the free speech of his constituents because they are atheists,” said Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President for Legal and Policy, who authored the report. “For example, Arkansas has mandated that every school classroom display an ‘In God We Trust’ sign in order to impose religious messages on public school children.”
Indeed, Arkansas is categorized as a worst offender alongside Kentucky, Arizona, and Alabama. In Arkansas, dangerous religious exemptions protect faith healing, impede vaccination, and endanger children.
“Arkansas is so behind when it comes to religious equality that it still has unconstitutional religious tests for office on the books,” said Gill. “Should we be surprised that Arkansas public schools offer Bible classes and coercive religious messaging but not comprehensive, scientifically accurate sex education?”
In 2019, Arkansas passed a ban on female genital mutilation, a traditional practice that involves ritually cutting or altering female genitalia for non-medical purposes.
“It is encouraging that Arkansas is finally protecting young women from a dangerous religious practice like female genital mutilation. However, the state has much work to do before it can claim to truly protect religious equality under the law,” added Gill.
“Christian Nationalists like Jason Rapert are making it clear that atheists, religious minorities, and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to their distorted vision of religious liberty are second-class citizens in Arkansas,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “Thankfully, atheists in Arkansas are fighting hard every day to improve their state’s laws and ensure that religion is never used as an excuse to harm or discriminate against women, LGBTQ people, and young people.”
Here’s the full report.
And this is a link to specific findings about Arkansas. We actually have some strong constitutional protections against government-imposed religion. They just aren’t always observed by the legislature and many local officials.