Religious Values and Public Policy, Part 3

Continuing Dallin H. Oaks’ speech:

During this same period, Professor Henry Steele Commager criticized the Moral Majority and the Roman Catholic Church for “inject[ing] religion into politics more wantonly than at any time since the Know-Nothing crusade of the 1850’s.” Writing in a New York Times column, this distinguished scholar asserted that “what the Framers [of the U. S. Constitution] had in mind was more than separating church and state: it was separating religion from politics.” While conceding that no one could question the right to preach “morality and religion,” Commager argued that churchmen of all denominations crossed an impermissible line “when they connect morality with a particular brand of religious faith and this, in turn, with political policies.” 6

Apparently, churchmen can preach morality and religion as long as they do not suggest that their particular brand of religion has any connection with morality or that the resulting morality has any connection with political policies. Stated otherwise, religious preaching is okay so long as it has no practical impact on the listeners’ day-to-day behavior, especially any behavior that has anything to do with political activity or public policy.

As we know, the idea that there is an absolute right and wrong comes from religion, and the absolute values that have influenced law and public policy are most commonly rooted in religion. In contrast, the values that generally prevail in today’s academic community are relative values.

I have read serious academic arguments to the effect that religious people can participate in public debate only if they conceal the religious origin of their values by translating them into secular dialect. In a nation committed to pluralism, this kind of hostility to religion should be legally illegitimate and morally unacceptable. It is also irrational and unworkable, for reasons explained by BYU law professor Frederick Mark Gedicks:

“Secularism has not solved the problem posed by religion in public life so much as it has buried it. By placing religion on the far side of the boundary marking the limit of the real world, secularism prevents public life from taking religion seriously. Secularism does not teach us to live with those who are religious; rather, it demands that we ignore them and their views. Such a ‘solution’ can remain stable only so long as those who are ignored acquiesce in their social situation.” 7

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has never held that citizens could not join together to translate their moral beliefs into laws or public policies even when those beliefs are derived from religious doctrine. Indeed, there are many sophisticated and articulate spokesmen for the proposition that the separation of church and state never intended to exclude religiously grounded values from the public square. For example, I offer the words of Richard John Neuhaus:

“In a democracy that is free and robust, an opinion is no more disqualified for being ‘religious’ than for being atheistic, or psychoanalytic, or Marxist, or just plain dumb. There is no legal or constitutional question about the admission of religion to the public square; there is only a question about the free and equal participation of citizens in our public business. Religion is not a reified ‘thing’ that threatens to intrude upon our common life. Religion in public is but the public opinion of those citizens who are religious.

“As with individual citizens, so also with the associations that citizens form to advance their opinions. Religious institutions may understand themselves to be brought into being by God, but for the purposes of this democratic polity they are free associations of citizens. As such, they are guaranteed the same access to the public square as are the citizens who comprise them.” 8

More to follow. Original Source.

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