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Liberty and UAMS 

Just as every mass shooting in this country produces a counter-intuitive cry for more guns in circulation, so every showing of the harm done by merging religion and government drives Arkansas officials to pursue amalgamation more ardently.

The Arkansas legislature is ginning out one faith-based, anti-freedom bill after another, bound on putting women in their (inferior) place. Nationwide, Roman Catholic bishops and their fundamentalist allies have filed more than 40 cases challenging access to birth control. Everywhere, religious zealots strive to undermine the public schools by diverting public funds to sectarian purposes.

And what is the response to this in Little Rock? Officials at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences continue to talk up the proposed alliance of their state-supported teaching hospital with St. Vincent Health System, a Catholic hospital whose policies are set by church officials in Rome. Under such an arrangement, taxpayers' money could be used to advance religious beliefs with which most taxpayers disagree. And before long, there would not be even a pretense that freedom of religion exists in Arkansas higher education.

St. Vincent is surely pleased by the prospect of imposing church dogma on a public institution, and making taxpayers pick up the tab to boot. Will anyone take up for the taxpayers, and religious freedom? Not the current bunch of legislators, apparently. The anti-abortion bills they've passed over the governor's vetoes reveal their unwillingness to impede the mingling of church and state. Some of them are even taking public money to operate church-influenced schools that they own. Foxes pulling sentry duty, indeed.

The UA Board of Trustees still has a chance to thwart the merger scheme, and the trustees would do a great service to the university and the state by refusing to authorize creation of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Propagation of the Faith. If the Board fails, then litigation must follow. The First Amendment is worth a fight.

Public health policy should serve the public interest, not conform to the dictates of sectarian lobbies. No Arkansan, no American, should be forced to follow the dictates of somebody else's religion.

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