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RELIGION AND LAW IN A DEMOCRATIC STATE

February 18, 2012

RELIGION AND LAW IN A DEMOCRATIC STATE

I have degrees in economics (minor in political science) and law and a lifelong interest as a lawyer and a citizen in the formation and execution of public policy. I have also lived a lifespan that includes the Depression, WW II (in which I participated), the Korean War and all of the wars (and their interludes) since. I was under the impression that such a combination of academia and perhaps unique real world experiences gave me a leg up on younger folks when it came to commentary on the passing scene today. It appears that I am mistaken. The “passing scene” increasingly does not involve “public policy” per se; rather it includes attempts by certain politicians to include private policy into the public domain, which creates a different question for discussion and resolution. Those issues involve philosophy and its inevitable spillover into religion, and other than a few courses in philosophy at the undergraduate level, I have had little academic contact with such disciplines.

However, I have lived a long time and have seen other attempts over the years to integrate a particular religious belief into the public sphere, so I will claim some expertise in the form of experience (not in the classroom but in the real world) where (as the expression goes) the rubber meets the road.

History informs us that schoolteachers in grade schools were almost always women, and that up to about the time men decided they could vote, such schoolteachers were expected to remain chaste, remain unmarried (hence the expression “school marm”), and teach students in the local churches on Sundays and during prayer meetings and at any other times juveniles were to be instructed in matters religious. They were also expected to be in bed early (sans visitors of any sex). Few of such religious activities were carried on at the schools; virtually all were at churches or other venues in the community in substantial keeping with their correct understanding of the Constitution and the sense of the Virginia Compact, both of which involved Jefferson and Madison and their thinking at the time. Take a look at today – we have charter schools, public support of parochial schools, prayer and bible reading in public schools etc. etc. etc. Religious beliefs have successfully invaded the public domain. The concept of separation of church and state as a democratic process is on the ropes. This situation urgently needs to be reversed.

We are now told by certain candidates of the republican party (in their mad rush to overturn or at least severely limit Roe v. Wade) that birth control pills should not be made available to employees of religious institutions or their affiliates as a requirement for federal funding and certain other benefits that flow through their coffers (though paying for Viagra at public expense is O.K.). Apparently Mr. Santorum would deny a couple with nine children ANY public access to contraception because of the “teachings of his church.” Conversely, if the dad with the nine kids in the example just quoted  is a Baptist laid off from his job as an accounts manager from the local Catholic hospital and can hardly afford food (much less the expense of contraception) , he and his wife can just have nine more. Mr. Santorum, conversely still, would then deny this couple and their 18 children food stamps and other welfare benefits because, inter alia, they did not more carefully manage the size of their family through his church approved abstinence program. Query to Mr. Santorum: Who put the pope or any church teaching in charge of family planning in this country? Query #2 to Mr. Santorum: Assuming that the teachings of your church have become the law of the land (teachings settled on by a vote of your cardinals and pope – not the people of this country, who had no vote in formulating your church’s teachings that now, in a very real sense, dominate their lives in about as an undemocratic example of religion barging into the lives of people that I can imagine), have we thereby established the principle that religious teachings are superior to civil law? What now do we say to an Amish farmer who pays property taxes, a part of which is dedicated to the local electrical power grid? No electricity is a church teaching for him; shall we exempt him and his fellow Amish parishioners from having to pay that tax? What about Jewish and Islamic folks? Part of their religious teaching involves not eating pork. Shall we exempt them from paying taxes that pay the salaries of federal inspectors in slaughterhouses who, among other things, inspect pigs? That is just the beginning; consider the “religious teachings” of WICCANS, Tree Worshipers, any number of Orthodox and Eastern views and their intersection with civil law in the countries in which they number. Are there any rational means of reconciling such “religious teachings” with democracy?

The short answer is not unless we are to have government that is piecemeal and bordering on anarchy. An oil and water analogy is not quite appropriate here, since there can be some intermixture of the two. However, they operate in different spheres of influence and any blurring of the two in their respective roles as they implicate public policy should always be resolved in favor of civil law and the government that functions under democratic principles as established in the Constitution and settled law. Anyone who disagrees with this pronouncement is invited to look around today where you have religion rather than civil government running the country. There is not a democracy among them, so the ultimate question is whether we want a democracy or a theocracy in charge. My choice is democracy. 

Finally, Mr. Santorum should read his Christian bible. Jesus knew how to accommodate the Pilates of his day as well as the temple Pharisees: His red letter statement in this regard says it all, to wit: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s. He knew the difference. Do you, Mr. Santorum? GERALD E

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