Voting on Religious Beliefs by Justin Day
October 16, 2008, 8:01 am
Filed under: Philosophy, Thought Initiative

by Justin Day

Imagine this scenario: Let’s suppose that radical Muslims have had mass conversions in the United States. With their numbers, they have managed to run enough effective political campaigns to gain control of the government of Michigan. They are the dominant party in the legislature, hold the governor’s seat and four of the seven seats in the State Supreme Court. They have passed legislation, similar to Sharia (Islamic Law), that all females in Michigan must wear Burkas at all times in public. Citing a violation of their First Amendment rights, the state was sued by a female citizen and the case wound up in the US Supreme Court.

When the case was heard before the Supreme Court, the plaintiff argued that Islamic beliefs were being forced upon her and that by passing the legislation the state of Michigan was breaking the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, establishing an official religion. Although everyone knew that the real reason for the legislation was Muslim religious beliefs, the state argued their reasoning for the legislation in purely secular terms; they made no appeal to religion whatsoever. The Supreme Court, taking a very strict originalist stance, ruled in favor of the state.

Would this be acceptable?

Americans United for Separation of Church and State says no. They say, “When the government or government officials get behind one religious message, it sends the message to adherents that they are more valuable, and all others are less valuable, members of the political community.” For the government to treat part of its citizens unequally, in this respect, violates their rights because they cannot appeal to the religious beliefs of Islam unless they are believers themselves.

The American Center for Law and Justice says yes. Citing many historic Supreme Court rulings, they state: “The Nation’s history is replete with examples of acknowledgment of religious belief in the public sector. Our religious heritage is manifested in many ways that openly reflect government sponsorship and yet do not create an “establishment” problem.” If the Supreme Court was right when it ruled on Zorach v. Clauson (1952) stating that “”[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being,” do we not have the right to rule based on those presuppositions?

(1)Considering the given problem, do you think people should legislate based on their religious beliefs?

(2)Are we doing the same thing as the Muslims in the scenario above when we legislate against gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc? If no, what is the difference?


9 Comments so far
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“Are we doing the same thing as the Muslims in the scenario above when we legislate against gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc? If no, what is the difference?”

The difference is that the latter is true, the former is not.

It is acceptable to push for religiously associated state policy – if it is true.

It isn’t the same category: to push for religiously born policy that is predicated on falsehood is different than pushing for religiously born policy that is predicated on truth.

Authority doesn’t matter when you’re right.

Comment by Mike J

Seeing as the government is a servant of the people, it could only impose such statues upon the public if the public wanted them. I don’t know how four Muslims for Sharia law could hold Supreme Court seats, especially if neither of the other branches were Muslim. But, the idea behind our government is that if the majority of people agree on something, they will be right most of the time. So if the people of America wanted the land to be Islamic, they could certainly do so, especially if they amend/draft a new constituion.

Comment by David W.

Justin, This got my brain and heart cranking! Thanks so much for writing on MANSPEAK! Welcome to the team!

Comment by Caleb H.

I’m confused about the first comment. Is it saying that Christians can push for policy based on our belief because our belief is true? Because if so, Muslims could use the same argument because they are just as sincere about their view being true, and so you can’t really say that. I’m just confused about your wording I guess.

Comment by Joshua Frerichs

I agree with JF and Dwells (and Caleb, thanks justin!).

Democracy is just a bunch of sinners trying to do the best things (some of the time?) that they can for their country. When God establishes his kingdom on earth, we won’t have to worry about whether our government’s decisions are right or wrong. But it seems like Justin’s scenario is just the weakness (strength?) of democracy (a democratic republic? not sure of the most correct term) itself.

Comment by joshcan

I think most of the thought for legislating Christian belief comes from Old Testament thought, when Judahites would slay those who dishonored God or God would punish countries for apostasy (2 Chronicles 7:19-22, 28:6). Indeed, such passages can be a stumbling block for Christians trying to glorify God in their vote.

We need to keep in mind that imposing the Law or any Bible-based legislated morality will cure sin or make us more presentable to God. We should express our views (and not just about gay marriage and abortion), but ultimately preach the gospel. Remember that the song goes “Our God Saves” and not “Our Views Save.”

Comment by David W.

I meant to say that imposing the Law WON’T make us more presentable.

Comment by David W.

Wow, talk about a can of worms! There are so many things that must be taken into consideration when answering questions like this!

Short answers: 1) Yes and no. 2) If we, as Christians, want to legislate against rights for gays to get “married” then yes we would be doing what the Muslims did in your scenario. For abortion and euthanasia, no and mostly no, respectively.

The US government does not have the right or jurisdiction to define marriage nor to restrict who can say who is married and who isn’t. For abortion and euthanasia, both should be illegal because both are an infringement of the right to life for each individual.

Long answer:

Here’s how I would think through this. 1) I need to first have clear in my mind what a consistently Biblical worldview is, then 2) I have to move to understand the world I find myself in, gain an understanding of what has happened and what is happening now, and where we are currently heading, 3) Then, I have to figure out how to engage this world, and where it is in the grand plan of redemption, with a biblical worldview.

1) A biblical worldview: God exists in three Persons, eternally: Father, son, and Holy Spirit and is fully and completely satisfied in that relationship, completely free from any weakness or need. Even though he needed nothing and experienced the fullness of joy within himself, he decided to create. He opened his “mouth” and spoke and created everything with these words. Not only did he create everything, he sustains everything continually. Not only that, he governs everything. Yes, everything, even Satan and Hugh Hefner. God created man and entered into a covenant with man. THIS IS IMPORTANT: God made a covenant with man and established that man, the creature, is responsible to God, the Creator. Why? Because God as Author of all creation rightfully has Authority over his creation. God reveled to man certain fundamental truths about how He was going to run the world, and man was responsible to God for believing that and living under that. But man, through the encouragement of the devil, decided that instead of submitting to God’s authority and trusting God’s interpretation of reality, chose to listen to his own, and the devil’s, interpretation of the world, and disobeyed God. Since man CANNOT ESCAPE his responsibility to God, he suffered the consequences that God said he would and God cursed all mankind and thus all mankind now stands guilty before God and sinful in all aspects of their being. God would be just in completely obliterating man and all creation, but in his mercy, he decided to save man. WOW! The remarkable thing about this is that God decided to create knowing that he would have to solve this problem. He decided how to solve this problem before he even created! The 3 persons of the trinity, united in their wills, decided that in order to uphold both their justice and mercy in the world would send the Son in human form to live life in the middle of fallen man, never sin, and then die on a cross as a criminal in man’s place, bearing man’s punishment in himself! The Holy Spirit would, before and after this, come and in special ways inspire men to speak and set the stage for this incarnation of the son, then to explain the meaning of the incarnation afterwards. Also, the spirit was sent to apply the salvation that the son accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. Every single man, woman, and child alive lives in the middle of this great drama of redemption. All are responsible to God. All have a responsibility to believe God’s interpretation of reality, the bible, or to reject it. If you reject it, wrath and fury, if you believe it, life everlasting. The role of the Christian on the earth is to bring God the glory due his name. the way this is going to happen is to give our lives to the primary vehicle God has established to do just that; the church, specifically, local churches. The church is what God has promised to redeem and to protect from everything, even the gates of hell! Nothing will be able to stop God’s glory from shining forth and nothing can stop the church. Sure, the church might go through seasons of bad health, persecution, and even a Christian holocaust, but God will preserve a witness to himself on this earth for his glory until he unravels it all and completes Redemption. The Christian’s hope is in God and His promises. The Church is the vehicle through which God is going to spread salvation to the ends of the earth. The Gospel is the message through which the Spirit of God will convict people of their sin and convert them.

2) Our historical context: For centuries there were various forms of government that put the power over groups of people in the hands of a few rich or powerful men. A majority of people had no say in the way in which they were governed. Though many governments in that time had direct or semi-direct ties to a church, gross sins against humanity were committed. Whole religious groups were pursued and wiped out in the name of Christianity or other religious groups. Eventually, some folks got sick of this and decided there was a better way to be governed, and they sailed across the Atlantic and came to The New World. A main reason for this was to have the ability to practice their religion without the government interfering. After some time, the government over these folks started imposing itself on them again, and that didn’t sit well with them, so they revolted and ran those guys out. These guys established a new country called the United States of America. The US is a Constitutional Republic. (It isn’t a pure democracy, despite what a lot of people think) It’s ruled by law set forth in a document. The US Constitution is founded upon the presupposition that every single human being is created, created equal and have certain rights that cannot be taken away or stifled. Government should only be setup by the consent of the people and only to serve to guard and protect the individual rights of the people. In the Constitution, the government of the people is vested in locally elected officials. Some of these elected officials govern the people locally, states, others represent the people among all the states in the union (the federal government), that is, the legislature (house and senate). Also, everyone in all the states get to elect a president and vice president to act as the executives of the union. In the Constitution, there are certain responsibilities that the federal government has and certain responsibilities that the local or state governments have. Any laws that are created at the federal level are created in the legislative body, approved by the president and then upheld/interpreted/enforced by the judicial branch. A similar process is to be followed by each state government, set forth in their own state constitutions.

3) Here’s the tricky part: Engaging US politics with a biblical worldview: Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am still in the process of thinking through these things. I am certainly open to any input, questions, challenges or punches to the face that might be necessary.

I don’t think the Bible tells us what kind of government God desires to be instituted among men. All we can say for sure is that God is the one who is ultimately sovereign over kings, wars, power, etc. I do think that the type of government that was set up by our founding fathers (which sadly exists in a severely altered form today) is the one that is the most beneficial to the church and can be most heartily endorsed by Christians. Here’s why:

Remember as I said that all men are created by God and that each individual is responsible for himself to God. Or put it another way, God owns every individual, and so all men are responsible to Him for how they live and what they choose to do. The best way to make sure that each man feels this responsibility for himself is for each man to live in a free society where he is expected to take care of himself and be responsible for himself, assuming that each man does not restrict the liberty of another. As soon as the government restricts liberty, they are really restricting the degree to which the individual is responsible for himself.

So, in regards to gay marriage. Technically, the Constitution doesn’t give the federal government the power to define marriage, so it should be left up to the states. At the state level, I think government should still be limited. I think all that the state can do is define what types of incentives should be extended to those who are married or in a civil union (tax breaks, visitation rules, life insurance benefits, etc.) I don’t think that the government has any place to define what marriage is, nor to make any pronouncements as to the metaphysical nature of the various relationships that men or women want to be in. In fact, I think it would be better, in regards to the government, to call all marriages or gay “marriages” civil unions, because that’s what they are. The state can’t mystically join a man and a woman, only God does that. So, I think its best left out of the state’s hands. What if a majority of Americans decide that homosexuality is the only acceptable way to live and eventually a law is passed banning heterosexual marriage? What a mess that would be!!!! It’s best to leave the state out of it completely! Also, there are many things that aren’t illegal in this country that we as Christians believe is sin but we don’t begin crusades to make them illegal. Why don’t we pursue adultery laws, premarital sex laws, or laws against drunkenness? What about laws against blasphemy?

Abortion and euthanasia are both murder and the ultimate infringement of an individual’s liberty, and, thus, ultimately destroys an individual’s responsibility to God for himself, on the earth that is. Both should be illegal. A life is ended. End of story.

Now about the question of legislating based on religious beliefs: I don’t think that anyone has ever NOT legislated based on their religious beliefs. Anyone who claims that they can completely separate their religious beliefs from their legislative agendas is either deceived or a liar. Everyone on planet earth makes decisions based on their worldview and/or their set of religious beliefs. Should we legislate based on our Christian worldview? We have no choice! I think the real question is this: are we going to confuse what the church should do with what the state should do? The church is the platform for preaching the Christian gospel and calling men and women to repent and believe. The best thing we as Christians can do for those who practice homosexuality is to build strong churches that reach out to them with the gospel, so they will be transformed from the inside out. As I said above, the best case scenario for the church is total religious freedom to teach and build churches with no restrictions from the government. I think that Christians should use their voice in the political realm to secure as much freedom for the church as possible!

Finally, and probably redundantly, I think that the bible presents God as the only being in the universe that can define reality for us, so why do we need the government to affirm or “validate” what God has already said is so? In wanting the government to legislate explicitly Christian virtues, aren’t we in effect saying that the government is the final word of what is true and not God himself? Are we undermining the authority of the church if we delegate certain aspects of the church’s ministry to the government? Also, look at history. When the government gets its hand on the church or a religion, bad things happen.

Please help me tweak or completely overhaul these thoughts where they aren’t good!

Comment by Kevin Shipp

Do you miss writing posts that much? Good grief! And now my 450 page synopsis on everything political…

Vote Shipp in ’12!

Comment by Squatty

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