by Julia Sherman '22
America: the land of the free and the home of the brave. Founded on ideals of democracy, liberty, opportunity, and equality. Equally important though, is the separation of church and state. As anyone who took a middle school history class knows, Europeans fled to the United States from the sixteenth century onwards to escape religious persecution. From that, they built a society where, unlike in many powerful European countries, they could freely practice whatever religion they wanted without government interference. The structural ideal of a separation of church and state practice guides our current government.
During the Trump Administration, policies based on religious practices have started to creep into our government. For example, when trying to defend the policy that was enacted to arrest everyone who crossed the border from Mexico, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible. Sessions said,
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Roman 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
Sessions defends the policies of the Trump Administration by citing the Bible, which many would read as a basic violation of separation of church and state. By using biblical justification for government practices, Sessions attempts to put God in charge of government.
It is hard to discern morality in a polarizing debate about religion in the government. Many religious people use their respective religions to glean their personal morals and ethics. They look to their god or gods for guidance. While dealing with human rights and politics, religion easily comes into play.
Abortion, for example, can be debated in a religious manner. One of the most polarized issues in government, Abortion has continued to be heavily debated even after Roe v. Wade. Recently, multiple states in the Midwest proposed “heartbeat bills” to ban abortions after six weeks, when you can first detect a heartbeat in the fetus. None of these laws have yet gone into effect, so abortions are still legal during the first trimester in these places. Many have speculated that conservatives have begun drafting these “heartbeat bills” to challenge Roe v. Wade, the supreme court decision which granted women a constitutional right to an abortion, following the appointment of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. Personal privacy for women and the separation of church and state most intersect in the abortion debate. Most anti-abortion groups defend their argument using the Bible, while most pro-choice groups say that the right to choose should be no concern of the state.
The conservative lawmakers that aim to pass the “heartbeat bills” base their decisions in religion, claiming that “God says life begins at conception, and the murder of unborn babies is not only morally wrong but should be lawfully wrong as well.”
Using the Bible to justify arguments not only violates Roe v. Wade, but also the First Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion. Should women not be allowed to make choices about their own bodies just because it conflicts with a lawmaker’s religious beliefs? These proposed bills are encroaching on the personal freedoms of women.
In addition, the recently sparked debates on abortion highlight the general use of religion by many politicians as an abuse of power. At its essence, religion serves as a belief system that connect people to a higher power, but when used for political gain, religion becomes a corrupting influence. Religion has no place in politics, or in political debates. After all, that’s how America was first built.