Lawmakers Must Keep Religion out of Government
As Texas prepares for the upcoming legislative session, we need to remind ourselves that government, whether city, county, state or federal, is responsible for civil matters while religious institutions are responsible for spiritual ones. Regardless of how well intentioned a politician may be, forcing his or her religious “truths” on the rest of us is contrary to the founders’ intent and just plain un-American.
Why would the founders of this nation, for the first time in human history, create a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that separated church and state? Let’s take a current issue right here in Texas — women’s reproductive rights, especially abortion — and unpack the wisdom of the founders.
The point of origin of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. His life and works are described in the New Testament of the Bible. You would think that since Christians believe in the same god, the answers to social and philosophical issues such as abortion would be the same. As we all know, they are not.
Some Christian denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is, well, murder. TheCatholic Church teaches that human life is created and begins at the moment of conception, although many Catholics do not believe this as evidenced by movements such as Catholics for Choice. There are others who believe life begins at first breath and ends with the last breath. They believe that until the first breath, there is only a potential for life.
Many, if not most, Christian denominations make exceptions about abortions in certain situations — such as protecting the life of a mother, or in cases of rape or incest. Other Christian denominations believe abortion prior to viability of a fetus should not be prohibited by law or by lack of public funding. After the point of fetal viability, they argue, abortion should be prohibited except when the life of the mother is threatened or when fetal abnormalities pose a fatal threat to the newborn.
Other Christian denominations believe abortion should not be used for gender selection or as a form of birth control, but they would not deny a woman’s right to an abortion after prayerfully seeking guidance from doctors, families and ministers. Then there are Christian denominations that advocate for reproductive rights, including the right to a safe abortion.
There are many Christian denominations, and each has its own faith traditions and practices. Each one equally believes it knows the “truth.” Then there are believers, such as fundamentalists, who want to force their religious “truth” on all Americans.
This is not new. In fact, this was the modus operandi throughout history until the American Revolution and the founding of this nation. The Revolutionary War was not simply a revolt against King George III’s tax policies and economic controls but also against a feudal system that placed the king at the head of the government and the church. The founders knew that liberty of conscience could not exist while government and church were married.
“Because we hold it,” James Madison wrote in the Remonstrance in June 1785, “for a fundamental and undeniable truth that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.”
Madison wrote our Constitution.
In the United States, church and state are separate. It is why we are the freest nation on the planet. A woman’s right to choose is the law of the land. If your religion doesn’t allow for an abortion, no one is forcing you to have one. If your religion allows for abortions, making abortions illegal or difficult to access would go against your religious beliefs. We haven’t even discussed what nonbelievers, as well as other faith traditions in this country, believe regarding abortion.
Religious oppression when religion and government are married is recorded throughout history. The founders gave us true freedom and, like all truth, it evolves and refines itself over time with growth and understanding. We all have a vested interest in keeping religion out of the state and the state out of religion. I hope our leaders in Austin will remember this lesson in the upcoming legislative session.
Eric Lane is president of the San Antonio Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church & State.
This piece was originally published by San Antonio Express-News.