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 Frankie Dapper on December 4, 2018 at 11:33pm

Loren, lumping in Jew with Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain is misleading and to my mind defamatory. 

Comment by Loren Miller on December 4, 2018 at 8:11am

I'd love to know if any state other than California has such a review committee.  No great surprise that the Golden State has it; they might as well be known as the Progressive State.  The obvious problem is that a great number of the people who occupy the House and Senate would resist the formation of such a review committee, tooth and nail.  If ordinary citizens don't speak up, indeed SHOUT OUT a demand for that kind of oversight, I have a difficult time believing it will ever happen.

I've long since written my representatives regarding the Congressional Freethought Caucus, and as I said above, it's a nice beginning point, but it is more informational than it is forcing a requirement of review, which is what we need.  Perhaps the next step would be to focus on individual potentially offensive bills, referring them to the CFTC as a means of pointing out their problematic nature, as well as vocally opposing them.  It may be that we can build that caucus into something more than window dressing.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on December 4, 2018 at 2:40am

Here is the text of the California Constitution provision making the public a review committee for legislation:

No bill may be passed or ultimately become a statute unless the bill with any amendments has been printed, and distributed to the members, and published on the Internet, in its final form, for at least 72 hours before the vote, except that this notice period may be waived if the Governor has submitted to the Legislature a written statement that dispensing with this notice period for that bill is necessary to address a state of emergency, ... and the house considering the bill thereafter dispenses with the notice period for that bill by a separate roll call vote entered in the journal, two thirds of the membership concurring, prior to the vote on the bill.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on December 3, 2018 at 10:39pm

Loren, forming a review committee has been done at least once.

A 2016 ballot proposition made California voters a review committee.

The state Constitution was amended to require the legislature to post a non-emergency bill on the Internet for 72 hours before the final vote. Public libraries have computers with web access.

The state Senate is in compliance. The state Assembly is stalling and has been told that they might be taken to court.

I’m preparing a talk for my Toastmasters club and in a day or two will post more info here.

A search on “california 2016 ballot proposition 54” will find much info.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 3, 2018 at 10:30pm

Congressional Freethought Caucus, great idea!

Comment by Joan Denoo on December 3, 2018 at 6:24pm

Well, then, we have to keep up the pressure! NOW!

Comment by Loren Miller on December 3, 2018 at 6:03pm

As to what it would take to create a coalition across religious lines ... THAT one would take some serious work, especially if atheists were to be incorporated into its structure.  Above my pay grade, for sure!

Comment by Loren Miller on December 3, 2018 at 5:57pm

Very good question, Joan. I think if we wait until governmental behavior becomes blatantly biased in favor of Christians, we will have waited too long. It's time to talk with our representatives NOW and make our opinions known. This administration is already shown its trend away from a secular attitude. We need to act to counter that trend.



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