The recent midterm elections were downright scary for atheist and humanist Americans, as we saw several political candidates allied with the Religious Right win seats in the U.S. Senate and House. Senator-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas is one such politician, having stated in the past that women must defend men against feminism. Representative-elect Ryan Zinke of Montana is another, having claimed that America is based on Judeo-Christian beliefs and calling former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the anti-Christ. But the most concerning outcome of the election isn't the introduction of additional far right religious promoters into Congress, but the likelihood that currently serving religious conservatives in the U.S. Senate will gain control of key congressional committees and leadership positions, which will inevitably influence public policy for the worse.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander is positioning himself to take control of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which has jurisdiction over a wide range of issues, including federal policy on education. Alexander, who I first saw speak at the 1995 Christian Coalition's Road to Victory Conference (with Ralph Reed as its MC), is the original sponsor of the Scholarship for Kids Act, a piece of voucher legislation that would redirect over 50 percent of the federal government's expenditures on K-12 education programs and turn it in to vouchers for private schools.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 80 percent of private schools are religious in nature, meaning that the majority of money allocated under the Alexander bill would go to private, religious schools that could use government money for religious instruction. Just as concerning is the fact that the schools receiving this funding would be allowed by the government to discriminate based on religion, gender, economic status, academic achievement and disability against former public school students who would seek to utilize these vouchers. This bias would extend to prospective teachers, who can be discriminated against on religious grounds, despite the fact that they are the very taxpayers who would foot the bill for such vouchers.
Alexander is not the only Senator looking to control an important committee. Senator Jim Inhofe, a notorious religious conservative, is likely to become the next chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. Inhofe is infamous for denying global warming, claiming that God controls the environment and stating "my point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous." The idea of a climate change denier being in control of the very legislative committee tasked with dealing with this important issue should concern humanists and all Americans worried about the state of our environment.
And then we have the men at the top, Senators Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn. Cornyn is likely to be the next Senate majority whip, which is troubling for those who have hoped for immigration reform. Cornyn stated recently on a radio show that "you gotta stop the flow of people coming across... we've got people coming across our place speaking Chinese, French and basically all of the languages in the world, coming through and across our southern border." And McConnell is likely to be the next Senate majority leader, which is worrying for those fighting for gender equality. McConnell believes the blight of sexism has essentially ended in American society, stating that women are on the same footing as men and that "most of the barriers have been lowered."
President Obama is likely to block most of the legislation coming out of the newly conservative Congress, but it's likely that some of the legislation that reaches his desk will be signed in an effort to get things done and reconcile the two parties. Humanists will need to work double-time in their attempts to get the 114th Congress to take into account their perspective when crafting legislation, but it's possible that the House and Senate will be pressing through some of the craziest legislation we have seen in a generation.