Three of the four letters printed in the June 14Advocate addressed purely religious issues. I have to assume that this is an indication that religion has dominated recent editorial correspondence.
I have seen a number of references to “our Founding Fathers” in proselytizing letters to the editor. As far as I know, the only Founding Fathers that had strong opinions that have survived in their writings regarding the relationship between religion and the government were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who both believed in a strong separation of church and state.
I do not intend to imply that there were no 18th-century American patriots who believed, as many do today, that this barrier should be weak or nonexistent. However, the fact is that the people who wanted a stronger tie between our government and Christianity lost the legal debate a long time ago.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains two clauses that apply to religion. These two clauses are commonly referred to as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter stated the purpose of the Establishment Clause very succinctly when he said, “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” In other words, neither the government nor its employees can impose their religious beliefs on anyone who believes otherwise.
The Free Exercise Clause guarantees everyone the right to worship as they see fit or not at all if they so choose. It does not, as some people seem to think, permit you to ignore secular laws because you feel that they violate your religious beliefs.
I know many Christians, some of them Catholics, who do not believe that using birth control is a sin. Only some Christians believe that it is.
Does this mean that, if any Christian sect or subset of members of that sect believe that any particular act is sinful or that any other act is a requirement of their faith, that we must purposefully design our secular laws to avoid offending these beliefs?
Must we allow polygamy because some Mormons believe in that? What about sects that encourage the handling of poisonous snakes to prove faith or religions that command parents to withhold medical care from their children to allow God’s will to take effect?
Currently, the line on all of this is drawn in what I believe to be a very reasonable place. If a law is passed that is generally applicable to all people and does not target a specific religious belief, all must obey it.