Legislature needs to separate church, state

THE ISSUE: State legislators are busy imposing their view of Christianity when they need to be grappling with Alabama’s critical problems. It’s not new for governments to embrace a religion, or even particularly unusual. But do we really want to go there?

One law at a time, the Alabama Legislature is imposing its own gloss of Christianity on a state in which 84 percent of the population is Christian. Rather than try to convince people of their views of morality, they are using the power of the state to mandate those views.

Theocracies are not all bad. Vatican City seems to function well enough. If its state-run media is to be believed, the people of Iran are generally content with their Supreme Leader and Sharia-based legal system.

And state religions are downright common. Most such governments have embraced Sunni Islam.

Some U.S. states have had state religions, but it was a practice that petered out quickly with the adoption of a First Amendment that prohibited Congress from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Indeed, one of the last to give up on a state religion was Connecticut. Then-President Thomas Jefferson famously encouraged the state to disestablish itself from the Congregationalist Church by noting the First Amendment demonstrated America’s desire to build “a wall of separation between church and state.”

Jefferson’s comments resonated, because America was populated with many who left England because of their frustration with its state religion, the Church of England.

In Alabama, legislators are brandishing their Bibles as they condemn homosexuality, and condone those who would discriminate against gay couples. They can’t resist laws making abortion an option only for the very wealthy. They ensured that children can say “Merry Christmas,” have prayer meetings and give religious presentations at school.

Embarrassed that Indiana is getting all the attention for its law giving businesses the “religious freedom” to turn away gays and lesbians, legislators are seeking to amend Alabama’s similar law to make sure it is just as blatant.

Alabama has severe problems the Legislature needs to address. It has an archaic tax system that brings in too little revenue and places an excessive burden on the poor. Its corrections system is overwhelmed, its population is unhealthy and it has a broken health care system.

Rather than using the power of the state to impose religious views of morality, it is time for the Legislature to tackle the difficult task of running a state.

(Published April 8, 2015)

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Filed under Alabama politics, Religion

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