Lawmakers’ oath is to the Constitution; not the Bible

Elected officials are there to make good policy, not to impose their religious beliefs or other’s religious beliefs on their constituents.

By

Columnists

April 30, 2024 - 3:32 PM

While politicians often cite their religious beliefs for voting one way or another, those beliefs aren’t necessarily a good basis for public policy. Unsplash/Aaron Burden

I received a similar call from Father Vince Krische, with whom I would later serve on the ethics commission. He also urged me to vote in favor of the abortion bill. When I asked him the basis for his opposition to abortion, he also said that it was based upon his “deeply held religious beliefs.”

These two men let me off the hook.

It was not my job as a legislator to impose Father Krische or Jim Ryun’s religious beliefs upon all women in Kansas. I took an oath to the Constitution. Religion is not supposed to enter into the making of public policy. We have a little amendment in the Constitution (the First Amendment) forbidding our government from the “establishment of religion.” The 14th amendment makes that applicable to state, city and county governments.

All public officials take an oath to the Constitution. They should ask themselves on every issue: “Is this based upon good public policy, or is this based upon my deeply held religious beliefs?” If the answer is the latter, they have no business supporting it. They are there to make good policy, not to impose their religious beliefs or other’s religious beliefs on their constituents.

Separation of church and state was unique to this country. Our founders understood the religious wars that had plagued Europe in the previous centuries. They wanted to avoid that here.

Ironically, it was a very conservative Christian, Roger Williams, who was the first to propose a separation of church and state. He was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of his conservative religious beliefs. He declared that when he founded his own colony, a person’s religion would not result in their being denied the right to participate in public office. Rhode Island became one of the few colonies that had no religious test for public office. In Massachusetts, you had to be a Congregationalist. In Maryland, a Catholic. In Pennsylvania, you had to at least express a belief in God.

Thomas Jefferson was not part of the drafting of the Constitution, but he was a champion of the separation of church and state. Not not a traditional Christian, he had gone through the New Testament with a razor blade and cut out everything that had to do with miracles or magic. What was left comes down to us as the “Jefferson Bible.” He concluded that Jesus of Nazareth was one of the great moral teachers of all time.

The Bible is what the Bible is. It contains history, but it’s not a history book. There’s math in there, but it’s not a math book. There is science in there, but it’s not a science book. The Old Testament was written over thousands of years by Jewish scribes to tell the stories about the internal and external struggles of the Jewish people. The New Testament was written perhaps as much as a half century to a century after the crucifixion.

The Bible is what the Bible is. The Bible isn’t what the Bible isn’t. However, when legislators or others take oaths to the Constitution, they are taking an oath to uphold the First Amendment, which means they shouldn’t be imposing their or other’s religious beliefs upon those they represent. In fact, they have a responsibility to keep government out of religion and to protect the religious beliefs of each and every citizen among their constituency from the government.

A religious churchman from England once said, “For man to contemplate the mind of God would be like for a dog to contemplate the mind of Newton.” I know of no dog who can read the “Principia” in its original Latin.

Religion is not health care. I know of examples from my own family of women who died because of highly restrictive abortion laws and women whose lives were saved because of Roe v. Wade.

Legislators have no business practicing medicine on the floor of the House or Senate based upon their religious beliefs.

About the author: John M. Solbach is an attorney in Lawrence and a former state representative.

Related
August 13, 2021
February 6, 2020
November 15, 2019
November 3, 2016