It’s the Court of Law, Not Religion
God is everywhere. I’m not saying that because of I’m of Judeo-Christian faith, I’m saying it because, from the artwork that adorns our museums and courthouses to the Declaration of Independence and the money we spend, there is mention of a god or creator in some varying capacity. When it comes to governance, however, invoking the almighty – no matter who your savior might be – brings more fighting than problem-solving, and frankly, that’s why God should be left out of politics.
While it can be argued that the United States of America was founded on Christian traditions and principles, the First Amendment of the Constitution is clear on the role of religion in government: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I quote the Constitution directly because using the term “separation of church and state” isn’t from the Constitution, but from a letter written by then-President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. The phrasing is simply how Jefferson interpreted that portion of the amendment, though it has gained quite the popularity in the past two centuries.
The writers of the Constitution also ensured that there would be no “religious Test” for anyone wishing to hold office within Article VI – though some political action committees and pundits take that task on all by themselves. Measures such as Article VI have paved the way for people like Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and Indiana Rep. André Carson, the first and second Muslims elected to Congress, respectively. The liberty to practice whatever religion you see fit is a decree that, to this very day, has made the U.S. a model nation for freedom – and that same statement can be applied to the limited role of religion in actual lawmaking.
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While you have the freedom to practice your religion as you see fit, incorporating some of those same beliefs into a government structure can prove to be bit more daunting. Within Christianity alone, there are divisions between those who believe that the Bible is a guide as opposed to a holy sort of history book, with no room for ambiguity or guesswork. There are also quite a few laws that might have worked in the context in which they were originally written, but not today. I’m fairly certain that even the current Supreme Court would say that stoning someone to death for profanity (Leviticus 24:16) qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. There’s still another issue we’d have to solve first, however – which holy text should be the primary basis of law? While there are some basic similarities among many holy texts, who’s to say that the Bhagavad Gita is any better or worse than the Bible or the Quran?
Even if the argument is kept among the three largest Western religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), with several overlapping tents of morality, we still leave ourselves in great peril when using these beliefs to legislate. Beyond strict versus looser adherence to a given text, what are we to do about those who would be considered infidels or interlopers – non-believers? If you’re a Christian, that’s your belief to have; I, however, don’t necessarily want to be held accountable via the Old Testament or the Torah. I’m tempted to use the analogy of “an eye for an eye” to describe justice, but the two faiths of the aforementioned texts don’t even agree on how that should be interpreted: while the Old Testament is taken in a more literal fashion, rabbis often interpret this Talmudic text as the value of an eye for an eye, not the actual organ itself.
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“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” – Sandra Day O’Connor
We also have the matter of modern problems being applied to text inspired or written thousands of years ago. We don’t have the specific teachings of Jesus to guide us on topics like stem cell research or abortion – guidelines can be implied, but lacking specific texts, our best solutions would still be nothing more than an educated guess, at best. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we have enough arguing and disagreements without bringing the Bible to the haphazard mess that Congress has become.
I understand that, for many of us, our morals and principles are handed down to us or developed through religion, or more specifically, faith in both God and the people that make up our society. That being said, our Constitution is built to ensure that everyone can practice as they see fit, and it sometimes requires us to step out of our shoes and understand the plight of someone else to legislate justly. You may not like that lesbian couple down the block who just got married, or that your neighbor insists on grilling and eating pork chops and bacon every weekend (Leviticus 11:7 in the Bible, and four places in the Quran – 2:173, 5:3, 6:145, and 16:115), but it’s their right to practice their form or religion. Your neighbors may wonder why you turn to Mecca and practice salah every day, or why you’re not so keen on going out and drinking with friends (Isaiah 5:22). No matter your choice, it’s yours to have – and its best served when used individually, not as a government mandate.
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