The growing acceptance of equal rights for gays, including marriage, has sent America’s old-time religious community into reactionary apoplexy — most recently evidenced by the Arizona Legislature’s attempt to pass a law that would have allowed business owners, based on their religious beliefs, to refuse service to homosexuals. This attempt at giving theology the force of law is just the latest seepage of sanctimonious sewage to pollute public policy.
For years now, Christian conservatives have made numerous efforts to protect and promote their theology by giving it the force of law. Fearing that critical thinking curricula will result in children questioning Christian precepts, and that the theory of evolution is incompatible with the Bible’s seven-day-wonder tale of creation, they have moved to eliminate the threat of science and critical thinking classes from public schools.
They have led the charge against abortion and birth control in order to return women to their traditional Biblical status as breeding adjuncts to men. In this effort, they have appealed to the courts for exemption, on religious grounds, from the birth control provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Last year, conservative Christians in the North Carolina Legislature introduced a resolution to declare a state religion — presumably Christianity. And now, some Christian evangelicals, among the most zealous of the true-believers, have boldly challenged the very concept of separation of church and state, contending that true Christians are required to actively apply the tenets of their faith in all venues of life, including government.
These conservative Christians are thinking like conservative Muslims who embrace theocracy as consistent with their faith. There is no separation of government and religion in strict Islam. The church is government. The law, Sharia, is God’s commandments.
And how does that work for everybody?
The initial impetus for Europeans to settle the wilds of North America was religious freedom. Before they became the United States, many of the original 13 colonies were founded by religious sects seeking to escape religious persecution, and to have the freedom to practice their faith as they liked. Later, Utah was settled by Mormons seeking the same things. It is understandable that intensely religious Americans would want the same things today.
However, to protect everyone’s freedom of religion requires that religion be segregated from government. America’s founders understood that persecution is wrong whether it is for or against religion. When citizens are subject to inequity because who they are, how they live or what they believe fails to comply with someone’s religious doctrines, we don’t have religious freedom, we have persecution. That is what the founders of this nation wanted to prevent and why separation of church and state became standard operating policy here.
When religion determines secular law we get various injustices and inequities such as prohibition of miscegenation and sanction of racial segregation. Now, religion is being used to prohibit gay marriage because some Christians condemn homosexuality as sin and an affront to God.
Defiant Christians argue that they should not be compelled by secular law to violate their faith and disobey their god. This is the meat of the matter — must secular law defer to the moralities and commandments of religion? History is filled with religious martyrs who have said yes.
To satisfy freedom of religion how far must American society bend? Should we permit discrimination against segments of society by Christians, or Muslims, or whatever? How broadly do we grant exemptions from the law based on religion? Can any sect or denomination qualify? Holy scriptures are so subject to interpretation, so conveniently elastic, that even Satan can quote from them to support his case.
The continued belaboring of the separation of church and state issue in our legislatures and courts has become tiresome. This is not Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Holy Roman Empire. The church does not rule here. If secular law encroaches on the religious convictions of anyone, then the offended saint can choose to disobey the law and suffer the legal consequences. All of society cannot be expected to juggle and accommodate the competing claims of various religious beliefs and interpretations.
Rational societies dedicated to equal rights for all cannot allow any of the various religious fantasies mankind has concocted since the dawn of human history to supersede secular law. No matter how strongly anyone believes that his or her god is real, that his or her religion’s holy writings are dictated by that god and must be assiduously followed, no one can prove any of it. Faith is not fact and no god has run for office yet.
As with any freedom, freedom of religion ends where it infringes the legitimate rights of others. We are not one nation under any particular god, we are one nation under constitutional law. Thank God.