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Lottery vote in Alabama stirs Baptist grassroots opposition

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–Baptists are getting the word out at every opportunity available that a state lottery is bad for Alabama.
“We think we are getting good results,” said Joe Bob Mizzell, chairman of the office of Christian ethics at Alabama Baptists’ State Board of Missions (SBOM). “The response I’m getting from pastors is very good,” Mizzell said. “They are anxious about it.”
While polling data may remain close until the Oct. 12 referendum, Mizzell said he believes the anti-lottery vote will be ahead in the end.
Buddy Gray, president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in suburban Birmingham, agreed. “Even though there is a lot of money on the gambling side, people with good sense see that this is not a good deal,” he said. “People I’m talking to believe if we can encourage the grassroots people to vote, it can be defeated.”
The grassroots support is definitely where the effort is gaining momentum, said Lenora Pate, co-chair of the state Woman’s Missionary Union Citizens Advocating Responsible Education and Economics (CARE) and member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham.
“I’m extremely encouraged from what I see from the grassroots initiative,” Pate said. “I’ve had calls from county organizers across the state … many of which were initiated through Baptist groups.”
Numerous rallies have already taken place and many more are scheduled, she said. On Aug. 2, for example, 400-500 people came together for a “No Lotto Unity Rally” in Tuscaloosa sponsored by the Coalition Against Gambling with Education (CAGE).
Speakers included Pate and Alabama Baptist Wayne Atcheson, who represented Rick Lance, executive director of the SBOM, and Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, a member of First Baptist Church, Tillman’s Corner, Mobile.
“It is high time that someone stands up and tells it like it is,” Windom said at the rally. “The lottery is wrong for Alabama.
“We need to be teaching our children that you get ahead in this world by the sweat of your brow and the skills of your mind, not by sitting on your behind holding a lottery ticket in your hand and waiting on a payday that will never come,” Windom said.
“I urge the people of Alabama to know the facts before you vote, then when the time comes, you will know that this is not hope — it is false hope,” he said.
Pate said she is troubled by the fact that proponents of the lottery are not addressing the economic, social and moral consequences.
“This is wrong not only because of the biblical reasons,” Pate said, “but also because of the immorality of structuring a gambling system that preys on our most poor, ethnic communities.”
Because the people who qualify for federally funded Pell Grants will not be eligible for the scholarship promised by lottery proponents, “there is a deceptive element there,” Pate said.
Students from lower-income families will be no better off than they are right now, said Harold Blackburn, retired director of missions for Baldwin Baptist Association.
“Consequently, they are double losers,” he said. “First, having gambled and lost. Then no money from the lottery,” he said.
Reports show that people with the lowest income are the largest consumers of lottery tickets, Blackburn added.
“When one says ‘free college tuition,’ it is generally believed that means a free college education,” he said. But according to one newspaper columnist, the total cost of one year at an Alabama four-year university is in excess of $10,000, of which the lottery would pay only $2,800, leaving parents to come up with more than $7,000.
Another fallacy Blackburn pointed out deals with the idea that the lottery will cure all the financial ills of the school systems.
“Not one dollar from the lottery would fund our financially strapped K-12 schools,” he said. “In fact, hundreds of additional classrooms would be needed for 4-year-old kindergartens. And who will pay teachers’ salaries?”
Dan Ireland, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), said, “Grassroots Alabama is beginning to see the fallacy of the whole thing.”
While lottery opponents contend they will be outspent in the advertising war that should hit after Labor Day, Ireland predicted there is not enough money in the state to blindfold the grassroots efforts.
“I’m sure we’ll be outspent, but we have the people on our side,” Ireland said. “But it will take the church community to get the job done.
“After the lottery won by almost 52 percent in Georgia, the question was, ‘Where was the church?’” Ireland recounted. “If the church community will turn the people out and vote their conviction based on the Bible, then we’ll vote it down. … We can make a difference; we must make a difference.”

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash