Some people are convinced of their faith so much so that it defines the logical framework most of us subscribe to. This makes it incredibly difficult to communicate with the religious fanatic reasonably. Two plus two equals five, it’s as simple as that – the solution is in the good book and that’s all that you need to know. So when it comes to a secular democratic government, which has promised to protect us from religious oppression and ensure our right to religious freedom, we face an interesting dilemma.
In order to maintain religious freedom, the government must allow practice of all faiths equally. This is necessary to ensure that the ethical and moral implications as defined by one religious doctrine are not favored over others. The government must also ensure that each of it’s citizens is provided an opportunity to exercise one’s faith so long as it does not defy the law or interfere with other’s basic rights to life and liberty.
If you happen to be a religious person who works as a politician, then it is your fundamental task to uphold the laws of the constitution as we have agreed upon as a nation. It is possible that in favor of protecting our constitutional rights, one might have to suspend certain religious beliefs specific to their personal faith in favor of allowing each citizen the freedom of making ethical faith-based decisions on their own.
The icons or laws of religion must therefor differ from the icons and laws of the state (or remain justified on ethical grounds rather than religious). For example, religious symbols are required to stay within the confines of one’s personal property or on property designated for worship. This way, citizens are able to practice their faith on a personal or communal level of like-minded believers without marginalizing fellow citizens who may not share the same beliefs.
THE POLITICIAN’S PROBLEM
If the law requires you to ignore aspects of your faith in order to maintain the laws of the constitution but aspects of that request are so absolutely against the ethical principles of your religion – how could you, ethically uphold the constitution? Is the constitution an immoral document in and of itself or does it merely protect the rights of citizens to act morally according to their own selves? Building a platform in the role of “moral protector” presupposes that everyone must share the same moral code – that the things that are wrong for one person are wrong for all people. On the other hand, by endorsing a law that allows others to make decisions you consider unethical means that you yourself may have behaved unethically in accordance to the laws of your faith.
THE FAITH-BASED SOLUTION V. CONSTITUTION-BASED SOLUTION
In order to enact a religious law as actual law, you must force your citizens to disregard their own faith in favor of state approved faith-centric ethics, or assume that all citizens share in the religious beliefs of the state. This is the first violation of the constitution (specifically the Establishment Clause). However, forcing people to pay taxes that support services that they deem unethical due to their faith does not violate the laws of the constitution. This is because the constitution is a document that protects the best interest of the nation, rather than the spiritual opinions of some. Instead, it provides us the individual right to make decisions based on our moral or ethical code, religious or not. State tax does not force someone to participate in “sinful” activities. Rather taxes support our right to make these decisions on our own, regardless of faith. Unless of course, you live in the year 2015, when faith based privileges and exemptions are being granted to a select few – leaving others without access to basic resources, and marginalizing the religious, or ethical beliefs of others.
THE FAITH-BASED SOLUTION FLAW
The recent religious argument is based on the idea that it is a violation of the rights protected by freedom of religion to be made to financially support activities that are deemed “sinful” according to certain faiths. If this argument was to hold up, we would have to put an end to use of taxpayer moneys for all functions deemed contrary to one’s faith. Very specifically, warfare. So while the religious demand exemption from certain taxes in accordance to their faith, they remain inconsistent with either their moral compass or are utilizing their faith to push a specific agenda.
THE RELIGIOUS CANDIDATE MANDATE
The majority of citizens demand, or have come to expect that our political leaders belong to a certain faith. In the minds of most citizens, a suitable political leader is one with a strong moral, ethical and spiritual foundation. While they may share several of the same traits by default, the job of enforcing the moral framework of a community or acting as a moral role model is the job of a priest- not that of a politician. Instead, we have a political system, made up of various individuals who are tasked with something fundamentally very simple – to uphold the constitution and represent the voices of the people. Accepting that there is a growing number of individuals who do not subscribe to Christianity in this country, and that the constitution is drafted in part, to protect those individuals, I believe we have a problem. If politicians must subscribe to the dominant faith in America to have any hope of being elected, and we demand that they remain morally and ethically accountable to their faith than we cannot also demand they protect the rights of the constitution or of others who do not share their faith. A person who functions within a religo-logic domain will never favor the constitutional rights of others over his/her religious dogma. So politicians veer in one of two directions, they vote to reject the rights of citizens in order to maintain a moral landscape defined by their religion (and to appease a specific majority faction of voters) or they vote to uphold the constitution and face criticism by religious constituents who are often the most vocal.
IT’S NOT CHURCH V. STATE – BUT CHURCH AND STATE
The church has its own very specific function within our community and likewise, so does our government. The government protects our rights and freedoms. The church offers us moral guidance for our personal lives. If one begins to take on the roles of the other – the state providing moral guidance mixed in with the function of making laws – than we have a major loss and a major flaw. Who is protecting our rights? If the church began upholding the constitution where would we go for moral guidance? Demanding that the two function the same diminishes the power of both.
A FINAL NOTE
The American republic takes pride in the freedoms protected by the constitution. It is popular to distinguish our country from those who suffer from the tyrannies of dictatorship and of theocracy, countries whose legal system and regime are rooted in religion. In these places, clergy serve as political figures that aim to uphold religious law for the supposed prosperity their country and their leader. As history has shown us, these regimes use religious mandates to justify widespread limitations of the kinds of freedoms we have proudly defined ourselves by.
It is a shame that a large majority of the American population believes that we, as human beings, are incapable of being moral without religion. Yet, I fear that this is a concept requiring a great deal of debate to dismantle. That being said, if we elect our political leaders based on their faith, then we must do so with acceptance and mutual understanding that at times they will have to suspend their own beliefs in order to do the job we elected them for. If we are unhappy with their decisions and consequently vote in a religious representative who will consider first his loyalty to the church, and second to the country – then we are on our way to losing the freedoms that make us unique. We cannot have it both ways. If a politician finds it morally incomprehensible to vote in a manner that upholds the guidelines of the constitution, then he is much better served as a member of the clergy.
At this moment, we are faced with this very dilemma. If we still hold dear the right to speech, press, petition, assembly … and yes, even religion, then we must demand and accept that our government remains secular, our public life remains faith-neutral, and our private lives, and in the lives of our faith-based communities remain a place for religious practice. We must all make sacrifices to co-exist within a fair and respectful nation. Imposing the religious ideology of a majority group does a disservice to us all.
Photo: Ted Cruz joins White House protest for detained American pastor in Iran. September 26, 2013, Getty Images.