Religion in Government – The "Back Door" Problem

My copy of FFRF’s Freethought Today recently went upside my head with a statement quoted on Page 3 of their November 2018 issue:

The bottom line is that while church and state are formally separated, religious legislators are still driven by their religious beliefs when voting in the Senate on all issue areas. This mechanism circumvents the formal separation of church and state and brings religion into politics through the back door.
-- Daniel Arnon, Emory University

The above statement relates to a study by Mr. Arnon, entitled: “The Enduring Influence of Religion on Senators’ Legislative Behavior.

On one level, someone might react, “Oh, well, of course their religious beliefs are going to enter into their legislative behavior.” The problem is that each one of these senators took an oath, either swearing or affirming to “support and defend the Constitution.” Being that the Constitution is a secular document which mandates the separation of church and state, any practice of inserting personal religious beliefs into legislation by any member of the Senate would constitute a violation of the above-mentioned oath! And if Senators are doing it, hardly any imagination is required to infer that members of the House of Representatives are equally compromised. In the case of the Supreme Court, I would say that this problem is obvious and therewith endemic to at least two of the three branches of our government.

Thinking ideally, that oath of office places a considerable expectation on any Congressperson or judge: it expects them to leave their personal biases at the door and legislate or judge purely based on the law. This requirement may not be stated in boldface, but it remains the impression left with your author in this case. That said, if there is a fatal flaw to the intent of the founders or the Constitution itself, here it is. There are religious Congressmen and women who either cannot or will not set their beliefs aside when formulating laws for this country and are so convinced of the necessity of their beliefs being universally accepted that they will compromise a promise made to those they represent in order to kowtow to their god.

So what to do about this? The Congressional Freethought Caucus has recently been formed, designed to encourage reason, science, and moral values in the workings of Congress. This sadly amounts to little more than a nicety when the wall which Thomas Jefferson intended to install between State and Church is suffering the death of a thousand cuts from legislators who insist on inserting their own religious bents into bill after bill. My own sense is that there needs to be an impartial, bipartisan review committee, whose only purpose is to examine any religiously questionable legislation for such influence and advise its authors and sponsors of its problematic nature. Any bill voted down by this committee would be ineligible for consideration by the full body, either House or Senate, until its problems were corrected and approved by the committee.

A very tall order, true, but the fact is that our secular government is being actively subverted by those who have no interest in a religiously egalitarian country, but one where their own preferred hallucination holds an immutable advantage. For the sake of every Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain … and atheist who lives within the borders of the United States, we cannot afford to allow the tyranny of what is no longer a majority hold sway over the rest of us.

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Comment by Loren Miller on January 7, 2019 at 4:19pm

Obviously, Michael, that's the proper choice. The problem is: how to implement it without everybody screaming that their religion is being persecuted.

Comment by Michael Penn on January 7, 2019 at 4:12pm

People need to think. The only way to be sworn in when elected to public office in America is to use the Constitution. Religious books of any persuasion have nothing to do with it.

Comment by Loren Miller on January 7, 2019 at 8:26am

I agree completely, Michael. The one interesting aberration I've noticed recently is the couple of new Muslim representatives who were  sworn in on the Koran! I wonder how some of their fellows on the other side of the aisle felt about that.

Comment by Michael Penn on January 7, 2019 at 8:21am

This is all very true, Loren. Another area that bothers me lately is that newly elected people seem to have no problems with "being sworn in on the bible." We have to ask ourselves why it would be important for any elected official to be sworn in that way. The proper way would only be to use the Constitution.

Comment by Joan Denoo on December 26, 2018 at 11:56pm

Right! Stay on topic! That is good instruction. 

Comment by Loren Miller on December 26, 2018 at 7:14pm

People, you were warned.  Joan, I'm sorry, but I want to keep THIS blog on topic.  Please create a post if you want to discuss your side issue elsewhere, but DON'T PRESUME TO DO IT HERE.

Comment by Loren Miller on December 26, 2018 at 1:31pm

Pretty obviously, Tom, whatever committee or panel would be reviewing prospective bills for religious content would have to be bipartisan.  Getting it to be utterly religion-neutral, I suspect, would be the real trick, especially among the "US-is-a-Christian-nation" crowd.  Any meetings it holds should be open-door and available for press review if not the general public.  In fact, a website which tracks its activities, preferably on a daily basis, would also be a boon.

And as I said in my last 'graph up there, getting this codified into law is a stretch, especially now.  The Freethought Caucus is at least a foot in the door.  I'm beginning to think that I may start writing current members of the Caucus and start sounding them out on taking their thing several steps further, remembering Ted Arroway's advice to his young daughter:

"Small moves, Ellie, small moves."

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on December 26, 2018 at 1:12pm

Many review committees exist, SCOTUS and lower federal courts and even state courts.

However, people who oppose the rulings of courts sometimes questions their impartiality and whether they are partisan.

I find rulings by searching on "SCOTUS religion" and have downloaded and read the text of many rulings that occasionally make the news.

BTW, Loren, I agree with your deleting off-topic posts.

Comment by Loren Miller on December 26, 2018 at 11:02am

C'mon, guys.  The POINT of this post is the failure of our government to deal with the backdoor intrusion of religion into legislation, NOT language usage regarding a particular ethnicity.  If you wish to discuss that matter further, please take it elsewhere.

Any subsequent off-topic posts on this blog will be deleted.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 26, 2018 at 10:45am

Tom I appreciate that you are not a racist and you are ignorant that the word Jew is used as a slur unlike any other proper descriptive noun identifying a people. 

However, one's ignorance is irrelevant when considering objective reality. Creationists make the same mistake when they posit their position as being on an equal footing with evolution. Whenever an individual's subjective perception is at odds with objective reality the subjective perception is irrelevant in determining objective reality.



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