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Politicians Lead the Gullible On & Trump Their "Promises"

Published Sunday, October 1, 2000, in The State:

Lottery spurs questions, and some poor answers
Special to The State [Op Ed page]

I'm blessed to serve as a pastor in a denomination that embraces John Wesley's emphasis on personal holiness and Richard Allen's uniquely American emphasis on equity, justice and liberation. The heritage of faith left to me by the founder of Methodism and the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church compels me to say a word against the proposed lottery in South Carolina. I do so in spite of those who assert that the church should hold its peace on matters of public policy, and in spite of those who urge the historically African-American church to go along with the "program," because the "program" is morally repugnant.

My heritage of faith tells me that "separation of church and state" simply means that our government cannot create an official national religion or inhibit religious freedom of expression, and that people of faith have a moral and civic responsibility to support good public policy and oppose bad public policy.

My Wesleyan heritage tells me that games of chance cannot replace faith in a Creator who knows what we need before we ask for it. Any game of chance, whether it be a lottery, bingo or a raffle, is an effort to get something for little or nothing by relying not on faith but on blind and foolish luck. My heritage as a son of Richard Allen emphasizes self help, the belief that blessings come as a result of God's grace and of our God-directed efforts to improve our circumstances through the dignity of legitimate work. That heritage does not include throwing money away on dubious hopes with long odds.

My heritage of faith warns against abusing those who are already abused by life and circumstance. Some lottery proponents have said that the poor are fair game for the lottery because they already spend money on other vices that the church should also combat, and that the state deserves its share. Such statements make an erroneous, capricious and arbitrarily automatic link between poverty and immorality. When you get beyond the bigoted insult inherent in such statements, the remaining truth is that the November vote is not on drinking or excessive spending on consumable goods, but on whether our state should sponsor gambling to educate its children.

Evidence from states with lotteries shows that the lottery often preys upon those who can least afford to throw money down the drain of remote chance. Some states actually gear their lottery advertising to the first of the month, when governmental assistance and Social Security checks are mailed. Visit those states, and you'll find lottery machines and tickets available and well advertised at convenience stores and check-cashing establishments, but not at banks or country clubs.

Evidence from other states also shows that "lottery" can mean the purchase of a ticket for a drawing, but can also mean instant win machines and scratch-off cards that bear a striking resemblance to forms of gambling now illegal in our state. The referendum does not exclude such highly addictive forms of instant gambling gratification from the lottery.

My heritage as a member of a church born in the quest for equity, freedom and liberation also tells me that, when you get past the moral arguments, there are troubling public policy and procedural questions that will not be addressed at the polls in November: Where will the money go, how will it be used, and who will benefit? The "education lottery" referendum is being presented for a vote with no enabling legislation that says how the money will be used.

Will the money go to replace chronically neglected school facilities in poor and rural areas, to provide adequate staff, salaries, books and equipment, or will the money be used to create a charter school and voucher system that could further damage public schools in poor communities?

Will the money benefit students who attend all accredited institutions of higher learning in our state, including those that welcome students who did not excel in secondary schools and give them the individual attention and motivation necessary to succeed in college and in life, or will it benefit those whose economic advantages already translate into good grades and high SAT scores?

Will those who are poor simply end up paying a regressive tax to educate the children of those who are already able to pay for their children's education?

If the lottery referendum passes, those questions will be answered after the fact by the same Legislature that took the Confederate battle flag off the State House dome and put it in our faces, that would not approve a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday without a Confederate Memorial Day and that passed a law to hold public schools "accountable" without providing the needed financial support to equip poor and rural schools to compete. Given that sorry track record, I have great difficulty in trusting our Legislature to do what is just and equitable for all citizens of our state.

My heritage of faith tells me that the lottery is an extraordinarily bad idea, but so does my heritage as the son of the late Eloise Janerette Darby. Whenever I tried to justify questionable activities that I had in mind, she always told me two things that have proven to be right over the years: "If it seems too good to be true, it usually is too good to be true," and "You can't do the right thing through the wrong means; wrong is always wrong."

The lottery is wrong for our children, our families and our state!!

[The Rev. Darby is a black senior pastor of Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston, SC]

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(posted: 3 October 2000)