The Supreme Court last week refused to strike down a quirky new Texas law that allows citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” in obtaining an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, and the political left has spent the last week in a predictable state of panic. I agree wholeheartedly with Karen Swallow Prior, who wrote in her opinion piece for the New York Times that “a world that pits a mother’s well-being against her child’s life is a world that needs extensive repair.” Abortion is a horrendous evil, and I pray often for its complete abolition.
However, I’m not writing about abortion, but instead about the kinds of statements that usually follow such a debate in our culture. I was actually very surprised that the New York Times even published Prior’s positive opinion about the Texas law. More par-for-the-course is Linda Greenhouse’s opinion, published on the same day as Prior’s in the same publication, “God Has No Place in Supreme Court Opinions.”
Here Greenhouse rehearses all the secular talking points on separation of church and state. She disparages Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s references to the Creator’s endowment of a universal right to life. She calls such language attempts at “theocratizing America” and asks, “Who let God into the legislative chamber?” She blames the American public for silently enabling religious fanatics to foist their religious beliefs on a country founded on opposition to an established church.
Ms. Greenhouse conveniently ignores the fact that Governor Abbott borrows his references to a Creator God who endows humanity with certain inalienable rights right out of the Declaration of Independence. It seems Thomas Jefferson was the one who invited God to enter. While the United States Constitution does not refer to God, every one of the fifty state constitutions do. The establishment clause does not ban God nor does it forbid reference to God by lawmakers or judges. It simply ensures that the United States of America never establishes the practice of a particular religion by law.
Nearly four decades ago, Richard John Neuhaus argued that any notion of a naked public square—a public square that operates apart from the influence of religion—is impossible. He wrote, “When recognizable religion is excluded, the vacuum will be filled by ersatz religion, by religion bootlegged into public space under other names.” In other words, you may be able to keep Christianity or Judaism out of the public square, but religion will invade that void under the guise of other names.
The public debate over abortion is not a debate between religious people and non-religious people; it is instead a debate between two competing religions. One group looks to God as supreme and depends on his revelation to assign value; the other group looks to human choice as supreme and makes value judgements based completely on secular criteria. All our arguments are over competing sets of religious values.
Last year, my daughter was humiliated at her public middle school right here in Oldham County, Kentucky. Her teacher sent her to the office where she was questioned about something she was passing out to her friends. She had made gift bags for her classmates that included snacks, personalized labels, and an invitation to her church. The administrative staff told her that she could pass out everything except the church invitation.
Does that sound like neutrality? Not only was it a violation of my daughter’s constitutional right to freely express her religious convictions, but it was also an imposition of religion upon her conscience. She was told in no uncertain terms that only one religion is allowed at school— secular religion. While I would not call her experience “persecution,” she certainly faced humiliation for her belief in God.
Believe it or not, secularism is not the default starting point for public discourse. To reject God is a faith choice. The overwhelming majority of human beings throughout history have believed in some notion of God, and the Bible tells us that God has left sufficient witness to his power and nature in creation. Human beings aren’t born atheists. Human beings suppress their knowledge of God and choose to worship lesser gods instead. Secular gods are still gods. Abortion rights rallies are worship services.
Next time someone asks you to mute your religious opinions, make sure you respond, “Please stop imposing your religious beliefs on me.”