It’s problematic when lawmakers cite religion as a source for why they put laws into effect. How about the separation of church and state?
There is strong evidence to support the fact that religion played a key role in the current “abortion bans” in many US states, but there are many examples of religion and politics merging: Pete Buttiegig is upfront about his faith and how it influenced his life and current opinions; Ilhan Omar’s comments and tweets as a House representative are considered anti-semitic by her fellow politicians; Man-made climate change denial often a religious issue; The illegalization of marijuana was often done on religious grounds, i.e. “the devil’s lettuce.” All of these are a few examples of how religion manifests in the political sphere.
As of 2016, the large majority of United States citizens fall under into Protestant, Christian, or other Catholic religions, though the country seems to be trending towards atheist or agnostic views with 21% of citizens identifying as non religious. As the country trends towards non-religiosity, this is not reflected in congress, whose majority religion in both the Senate and the House is Catholic or Protestant. In fact, there are surprisingly few representatives in either the Senate or the House who identify as non-religious. This is one of the ways that politics on Capitol Hill is not reflective of the values of the citizens of the United States.
The separation of church and state is an important concept in United States politics. This in no way implies that having a religious identity that influences one’s opinion makes a person unfit for office. However, when lawmakers cite religion as a source for why they put laws into effect, especially when these laws restrict the human rights of others, that restriction is problematic.
The problems starts when religion inhibits citizen’s freedom of choice, outlined in the first amendment of the constitution. Mayor Pete Buttiegig and Representative Ilhan Omar are allowed to have opinions based on their religious identities and express those opinions. However, if these opinions are going to impact the civil liberties of United States citizens or global citizens, that is obviously not condonable.
For example, Governor Kay Ivey’s signing into law of the total abortion ban in Alabama is a religious stance. She said that the law reflects “deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” Science can discern when life begins. However, there is a distinction from a living cell to a cognisant being, human being that is able to discern itself. Abortion is a decision that affected 19% of women in 2014, though the trend of abortion seems to be on the decrease though it disproportionately affects minority communities. Liberal opinion now seems to be that women and their doctors should be able to determine what is the safest and best practice for women. There is a huge spectrum of ideas and beliefs about abortion, but brining a religious opinion into a decision that affects thousands of women destroys lives. Ivey is certainly allowed to have a religion and its allowed to influence her opinion, but it is not okay for policy makers to push those opinions onto thousands.
Another example of this is the Man-Made Climate Change Debate, which has sparked a lot of debate for decades. Man-Made Climate Change Denial relies a lot on religion that influences opinion. A lot of this relies on cognitive dissonance; the ability to tailor or reject new, contradictory information according to previously held beliefs. These previously held beliefs often have to do with religion that manifests itself into the political sphere, blocking policy that could improve the conditions of the future. Despite the Green New Deal and the worldwide school walkout of highschool and college students, it is still a issue that barely gets any policy made on a federal level in the United States. Religion does not have the only role in the reasons behind this, but it does play a key role in the convincing of everyday people that man-made climate change does not exist.
Then there is the case of marijuana, which up until 1937 with the invention of the Marijuana Tax Act, was allowed for recreation purposes and medical purposes. Now, the use of marijuana is limited in most states for medicinal use. However, many states have now legalized the drug for medicinal and recreational purposes including Colorado and Massachusetts who have both made millions. Colorado has so far made over 6 million dollars since 2014. Medicinally, marijuana is used for PTSD, severe cases of anxiety, glaucoma, cancer, and other mental and physical ailments. While inhaling smoke is never a good idea in general, there are other ways to consume marijuana and it is considered healthier than cigarettes. In the case of marijuana, there is a huge change in public opinion despite the fact that many religious groups condemn the use of marijuana in any form.
The change in opinion surrounding the legalization of marijuana demonstrates a possible trend towards not regarding a religious organization as a public policy authority. That change could be an indication that despite the resurgence in religion based policies and opinions surrounding climate change and abortion, those opinions and policies will probably phase out, as they should. Policies should respond to public opinion, which shows an ever increasing shift away from religion. Obviously religion does incredible things for many people and can sway opinion positively just as much as it can negatively, as long as human rights are not infringed upon and positive change is not hindered.