If I were to ask you to describe the general political tenor of two states in the USA -- Arkansas and Washington -- you would probably have the first reaction that I did, which is to assume that Arkansas is a generally conservative state, being in the Bible Belt and the South and all, and that Washington was a generally liberal state, dominated as it is by a large urban area, located on the Pacific Coast, and populated with a large community of environmentalists.
Yet it is in Arkansas, not Washington, where a state politician -- elected from the Green party, no less -- is advancing, with little dispute and only a few raised eyebrows, an effort to repeal a portion of the state's constitution that prohibits atheists from serving as jurors, witnesses, and public officials.
And it is in Washington, the land of latter-day hippies drinking strong coffee and extolling the virtues of hemp and organic farming, where State Measure 1040 is pending. State Measure 1040 is an initiative which, if enacted by Washington's voters, "would prohibit state use of public money or lands for anything that denies or attempts to refute the existence of a supreme ruler of the universe, including textbooks, instruction or research." Reading the text of the measure reveals that it is a not-always-coherent screed citing to the preambles to the U.S. and Washington State Constitutions as if those documents somehow proved the existence of God, and several gyrations by which the author attempts to prove that he or she is not bigoted against atheists but does want the state to not spend any money on anything that might tend to suggest that atheists could potentially be right about not believing in God. The measure has been submitted for circulation but not yet qualified for the 2009 ballot.
Query if Measure 1040 is constitutional. Query also if it would mean the state could not teach children about evolution in public schools.