Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 14, 2006

It’s simple, really: Base laws on the Constitution, not religous texts

“We will be a better country when each religious group can trust its members to obey the dictates of their own religious faith without assistance from the legal structure of their country.”~ Margaret Mead

I serve on The Dispatch editorial board with Cynthia Walker, so I know her to be a smart, sharp person. That’s why it surprised me to read in her recent column that repealing laws banning crimes like robbery might be a consequence of not basing laws on personal faith. Based on my observations of her on the editorial board, I thought she knew better.

Walker was responding to my recent column in which I argued that while personal faith is a perfectly valid basis for personal decisions, personal faith is irrelevant as a basis for deciding public policy in America. I gave several examples of some faiths’ assertions that the vast majority of Americans would not want enacted into law (modern medicine, technology and birth control are bad according to some faiths, so if faith is the basis of our laws, modern medicine, technology and birth control should be banned). In the incisive words of author Robert Heinlein, “One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.”

I notice that Walker did not answer my simple question: If you base laws on personal faith, whose faith do you choose?

Because Walker is a smart, sharp person, she must also know that I never asserted that “just because a religion or faith has a particular tenet” means “that tenet should be barred from being replicated in public policy.” Talk about your straw-man arguments. Based on her own columns, including a recent one, she knows better than to use that fallacy.

The preamble to the Constitution is pretty clear: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

We have laws against theft and similar crimes not because they violate a particular personal faith, but because theft and similar acts do not promote domestic tranquility and do not promote the general welfare. That anti-theft laws happen to agree with the personal faith of those who subscribe to the Ten Commandments is an irrelevant coincidence.

We have laws against murder and similar crimes not because the Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not kill,” but because murder and similar acts do not promote domestic tranquility and do not promote the general welfare.

We have laws against a whole host of other acts that are not even mentioned in the Ten Commandments (we prohibit assault, battery, slander, libel, speeding, reckless driving, and much more) because those acts do not promote domestic tranquility or do not promote the general welfare.

Not only that, but we have repealed laws (antimiscegnation laws, anti-sodomy laws, segregation laws, for example) because they violated our Constitution, regardless of whether anyone’s personal faith supported them.

The point is that America’s laws are based on the Constitution, not on the Ten Commandments, not on the Koran, not on the utterances or writings of Jesus or Buddha or L. Ron Hubbard or or Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy.

When it comes to physician-assisted suicide, I encourage anyone to use his or her own personal faith for guidance on whether or not to seek it. When it comes to whether or not America should have laws allowing or banning the practice, personal faith is irrelevant.

Personal faith, religion, holy texts, and the like are wonderful tools for those who believe in them. They do not apply to those who do not believe in them.

Because personal faith, religions, holy texts, and the like contradict each other, and because America is a secular nation that does not endorse any religion, they can only guide the decisions of those who believe in them. It is un-American and unconstitutional to apply them to anyone else. That’s why personal faith, religions, holy texts, and the like are irrelevant to deciding public policy and enacting laws.

“Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives.” ~ Barry Goldwater



  1. […] when people should die — have no place in establishing public policy, I’ve always wondered why these people don’t claim that patients and the medical establishment are “playing […]

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