If our history has taught us anything it is that government and religion cannot become one in a free country. Our founding fathers did not, by chance, craft a constitution that protects the rights of people to practice their faith of choice. The first amendment to the Constitution was inspired by religious persecution and war in our history. Religious zealots prefer you not read this history, because it does not speak kindly of religion.
It is history that brings clarity to the importance of preserving the separation of church and state. Yet, we have politicians that believe it is their duty to impose their dogma on the people of this country, and they do not hesitate to use their office for this purpose. Legislators have attacked a woman’s right to choose and put their interest before the interest of free people.
First allow me to dispel the notion that this nation was founded as a Christian nation. In 1800, no more than 10 percent of Americans were members of a congregation. George Washington, when addressing the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789, said, “Every man ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams wrote, “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved—the Cross.” But these are not words against God, as some will have you believe; these are words against the men that took God’s words and twisted them into contempt for those who choose a faith that differs from theirs.
Harvard Professor and Christian Minister Peter J. Gomes writes, “Religious fundamentalism is dangerous because it cannot accept ambiguity and diversity and is therefore inherently intolerant.” We fail the test of religious tolerance in our country when we demonize others for not believing as we do.
It was only months ago that our nation witnessed a Christian senior pastor refer to Mormonism as a cult and claimed that Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism were false religions and that the Catholic Church was the outgrowth of corruption. This is not history of 600 years ago, but it hasn’t changed much from then to now, which is why history is so important.
Recently the Catholic Church objected to legislation that would have required them to provide contraceptives to female employees. The church objected, and they will not have to comply. However, in the process of dealing with this incident we learned that 98 percent of Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraceptives. I find this interesting because it demonstrates that people of faith will choose that which is best for them and are free to do so because of the Constitution.
This situation also begs the question, “If a religious institution receives federal money, does it not have to obey the laws of this nation, which includes the 14th amendment—equal protection under the law?” I raise this issue only to demonstrate how the co-mingling of church and state does not only invite conflict, but it is also not healthy for a nation of free people.
This month, Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill requiring a transvaginal ultrasound of every woman having an abortion, because supporters of the bill oppose abortions. Not only is this procedure physically invasive, but it has absolutely nothing to do with a woman’s health leading up to her abortion. Following public outcry, the bill was amended and will now only require a woman to have an exterior ultrasound, but that is not the point.
This mandated requirement is motivated by religion and imposes unnecessary obstacles that are invasive, costly and created for the sole purpose of discouraging a woman’s right to choose. This is a case of government making health decisions for women and a clear example of religion in politics. The legislators that supported this legislation violated their oath of office, which states, in part, that they “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States…and bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” There is no religious clause that gives them the right to ignore the Constitution and practice their faith over a woman’s right to choose.
Religion is good when it does good things to improve our world without forcing its dogma on others, but if we choose to be free then we must preserve the separation of church and state.