Religion vs. individual freedom a common worryWhen my Catholic father was young, suspicion between Catholics and Protestants was greater than it is today. One result was that when my father’s family travelled around the countryside and happened to spy an unkempt farmstead, a comment such as “that’s probably a Lutheran’s place” might be heard. Certainly, no Catholic could fail to mow the lawn.
When my Catholic father was young, suspicion between Catholics and Protestants was greater than it is today. One result was that when my father’s family travelled around the countryside and happened to spy an unkempt farmstead, a comment such as “that’s probably a Lutheran’s place” might be heard. Certainly, no Catholic could fail to mow the lawn.
Such was the mistrust 52 years ago, that some Americans worried that John F. Kennedy would, if elected president, take orders from the pope. To dispel such notions, Kennedy gave a speech to a group made up largely of Baptist pastors. “I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me,” he said.
For a nation whose constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,” Americans surely do have religious requirements for their public figures. Besides Kennedy, four years ago candidate Obama was forced to give a major speech defending his choice of church. Some now insist he’s a closet Muslim, in an effort to disqualify him from the presidency. And candidate Mitt Romney tiptoes around his Mormonism to boost his chance of being elected.
The debate over the appropriate relation of religion to government has now run smack into Minnesota, but now it’s not Catholic against Protestant. Instead, it’s Lutheran against Lutheran and Catholic against Catholic, all debating the issue of how to vote on Minnesota’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
That debate is pretty well (but accidentally) summarized by former presidential candidate John Kerry, who said “I can’t take my Catholic belief … and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist,” and by Catholic former candidate Rick Santorum, who said he “almost threw up” when he read the remarks of Kennedy.
In Minnesota, one side of that debate is expressed by Catholic pastor John Echert, who said that opposite-sex marriage “is the only moral, acceptable manner,” and by Lutheran pastor Robert Franck, among others, who wrote that “marriage as God designed it is foundational for our society.” The opposite side is expressed by lifelong Catholic LaDonna Hoy, who said that “the idea of (homosexuals) being marginalized by … some religious fear is just distasteful to me,” and by Lutheran bishop Thomas Aitkin, who wrote that “we seek to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination.”
Those who wish to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage sometimes try to abandon the argument of religious morality, and instead try to insert secular arguments; e.g., the traditional definition of marriage “serves a vital and universal societal purpose.” But overwhelmingly that argument is overshadowed (partly because it’s so weak) by the morality argument, such as the following Biblical quote given by the Rev. Helen Millen as she criticized the Duluth City council’s discussion of gay marriage. “Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor sodomites nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards … will inherit the kingdom of God.”
What Millen fails to mention is that no one who participates in her long list of proscribed behaviors, except for homosexuals, is denied the right to marry. Drunkards, thieves, the covetous and the idolaters — all of them have the right to marry in Minnesota. Homosexuals, according to those using the religious argument, should be denied rights that we even allow to criminals, mainly because they don’t measure up to a certain religion-based version of morality.
In an article I wrote a year ago, I lamented the fact that unmarried homosexuals (and the children they may care for) are commonly denied numerous benefits, such as employer-provided healthcare. Mark Gilbertson, in a letter to the editor, published on Sunday, June 26, 2011 and headlined “Social engineering not the solution, “responded that the proper solution would be to eliminate the large amount of benefits, rights, and discounts that have been given to married people, but which are denied to (and subsidized by) the nearly 50 percent of adult Americans who are unmarried, including homosexuals.
Gilbertson is largely correct.
Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re being asked to vote on this fall. Instead, on a fundamental level we’ll be asked whether or not our government and our rights should depend on a religious test. We should be just as worried about that now as many were in 1960.
Langr’s father eventually married a Lutheran, but always attended his own church. Pete Langr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.