America has always been pretty religious, but every now and then it seems that a more strident than average religiosity arises among us. The history is complicated and I don’t want to give a different impression, but one can see periods when religiously motivated, seemingly always Christian, movements arise and affect policy and culture, then decline. One such rise was the mid 19th century through early 20th century efforts to make certain “sinful” behavior, such as drinking, illegal. Temperance organizations (and individuals) introduced anti-drinking ordinances and laws at seemingly every session of every political body for decades, initially being rebuffed but over time having success.
By the time Prohibition was introduced at the national level in 1920, there were already numerous cities, towns, counties, and states that had banned alcohol. Interestingly the lifting of Prohibition in 1933 did not abrogate those more local laws, that had to be done separately. Today, in New England, there are many areas where one or a few towns still ban the sale of alcohol. You can identify these communities by the cluster of “package stores” just over the border in an adjoining non-temperance town. (Or at least, that is how it was when I lived there…perhaps everyone has come to their senses since then.) Just as Prohibition was introduced nationally, partly because of it I would assume, the culture of the nation started to shift in the other direction. By the time World War II was over, we were more secular, and the Religious Right (as we call it today) had to start over again, gaining modest advances in the 1950s.
The last few decades have seen yet another rise of religious power, associated with movements variously known as fundamentalist or evangelical (though neither of these terms accurately maps onto the religious and political right). Christian extremists got their own political party by taking over the relatively secular Republican Party, and it has become increasingly “normal” for politicians and other leaders to make references to “Christian values,” to have prayer of some kind at public functions, etc. A majority of Americans think that religious dogma should be offered as an alternative to science in public school classrooms. Recently, it has not been too difficult for several states to use supposed Christian principles as the impetus for enacting human-rights violating laws especially with respect to same sex marriage. And so on.
Against this background we saw an interesting phenomenon in Minnesota. Unable to actually pass a law (any law, pretty much) the Republican/Tea Party controlled state legislature put on the ballot a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, along side another amendment to restrict voting rights of people who were less likely to be Republicans (in their view). There was a big fight. Both amendments were defeated by a strong majority, despite the fact that when they were first introduced, both had strong public support. What happened was this: Well organized efforts were implemented to explain to people why these amendments were wrong, and enough people understood that to vote against them.
Written By: Greg Ladencontinue to source article at scienceblogs.com