Lewis: Constitutional contradictions when it comes to religion
The First Amendment to the Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Pretty simple, right? Well not really. Throughout our history, we have established laws that appear to violate this amendment, and, in other cases, we have allowed dubious religious “freedoms” that aren’t founded in any major denominational religious belief.
For example, while many have objected to vaccines on religious grounds, I could find no major religious group that has officially banned vaccines based on religious grounds. Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and every other religion I could find all support the vaccination of their followers. Clearly, there are many individuals who do not want the vaccination and they cite religious grounds, but I could not find any specific religious dogma behind it. Even so, 44 states currently allow “religious” exemptions from vaccines.
Want to buy a car? You can’t on Sunday in Colorado thanks to a 1950s-era blue law. Many states have these laws on the books, banning certain activities on Sundays. But wait: What if your rest period is from Friday evening to Saturday evenings like in Judaism and Seventh Day Adventists? It seems to me that any law that we put in place accommodating a specific religious belief is likely to contradict with the beliefs of others. I would have thought this was a clear First Amendment issue, but blue laws have remained in place for decades.
The current issue we face is the reversal of Roe v. Wade, effectively ruling that a woman does not have the right to an abortion under any circumstances including rape and incest. Like with blue laws, if the federal government defers to the states, then the fundamental right ceases to exist. I was curious though and wondered — do all religions oppose all abortion under all circumstances?
Basically, denominations and religions are all over the map. Aside from Catholicism, which appears to offer no exceptions, most religions allow for exceptions, and some, like Episcopalian, Lutheran, Judaism, and Presbyterian recognize women’s rights pretty much as they existed when Roe v. Wade was the law of the land.
Here’s something interesting. Every single Supreme Court justice that voted to overturn Roe v. Wade was Catholic (Neil Gorsuch was raised Catholic but now attends Episcopal church). With most (75%) of U.S. Bishops supporting that they should deny communion to any person not actively working to end abortion, the question is — can a Catholic Supreme Court Justice be impartial on this topic? Which is the higher authority? That could be great fodder for a conspiracy theory, but I hear those folks are still busy looking for those Jewish space lasers.
Given now that there are no federal laws governing abortion, each state may now do as it chooses. The question I have is — how can a state like South Dakota place a complete ban on abortion but still allow a religious exemption for vaccinations? Why can’t a Presbyterian woman in South Dakota argue that her First Amendment religious freedoms are being violated if she is unable to obtain an abortion? I am no constitutional scholar, but it sure seems to me that the idea of religious freedom is just as — if not more — applicable in abortion as it is regarding vaccines.
Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert articulated what many likely believe but are afraid to say when she denounced the separation of church and state as “junk.” For the few readers that might not have grasped her implied meaning when she said, “church and state;” to her, the word “church” means the Christian church — not the Jewish “church” or Muslim “church” or all churches. When I first heard this, it sent a chill down my spine. I couldn’t even believe it. To me, it was the constitutional equivalent of someone standing up and saying it was time to ban all guns. Surprisingly, there was almost no backlash.
After reading this, you might think I am critiquing religion. Quite the opposite; I was raised Presbyterian and believe in God. Many of my closest friends are Catholic and I respect their beliefs as I hope they respect mine. My wife is Jewish.
The challenge we face as a nation is one of respecting religious viewpoints to the greatest degree possible but stopping short of legislating them or, in this case, allowing individual states to legislate them. While most blue laws are relatively harmless, the concept behind them, that a particular religion can enact laws requiring our entire society to comply with their particular beliefs, is simply unconstitutional. Further, it threatens our most fundamental precept — that no single religion should be given preferential standing.
Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.