courts and lawmakers can drive morally informed voices from the public
square, it’s not just religious believers whose rights are eroded.
It should concern everyone, as Acton’s Kevin Schmiesing explains in this commentary.
Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a state
law prohibiting homosexual men and women from marrying same-sex
partners. The decision depended on the court’s finding that there was
no “rational basis” for Iowa’s statute. More specifically, the Court
determined that opposition to same-sex marriage was all (or mostly)
motivated by “religion.” By endorsing the law, the Court concluded, it
would be endorsing religion, which is forbidden by the First Amendment.
Legal scholar Matthew Franck summarizes the implication of the
court’s argument well: “if a moral argument finds support in any
religious commitment, then the promulgation of that argument in law is
a violation of the principle of religious disestablishment.” More to
the point, Franck observes, this approach to First Amendment
jurisprudence is “logically fallacious, historically illiterate, and
The latter, because it strong-arms religious people from any arena
of influence in the formation of law or public policy. Which gets to
why it should concern everyone.
As the Iowa case demonstrates, any religious view will
be suspect, so long as it grates the sensibilities of whomever the
political elite happen to be at the time. Even the views of
non-religious people can be ostracized in this way…
It should be obvious that this is no way of building a pluralistic
society that is free and peaceful. The American Founders knew better
when they fashioned an amendment forbidding the national government
from establishing a church, guaranteeing all people the right to
practice their faith, and leaving the rest to local custom and personal
What is not being upheld in these cases is the ‘free exercise’ provision of the Establishment Clause.
Recognizing the influence of religion, tyrants have
always begun their quest for absolute power by coopting religious
leaders. Where they have failed in that enterprise, would-be despots
have neutralized them by undermining their authority or doing away with
troublesome ministers altogether. History’s tyrants recognized the
progression that some of us have forgotten: Where people are free to
act according their conscience, they will demand the right to determine
their political destiny.