Lesson 8: The Freedom of Religion Argument (Part 2)

I ended last week questioning whether the abortion issue should be a matter of civil law at all. It could be argued that passing laws that support either position imposes religious teaching on the other. In that sense, it breaks the first amendment that grants minorities the freedom to practice the faith of their choice.

Beyond that, enacting laws that outlaw abortion imposes a religious belief on nonbelievers. The Christian Century poll reports that 65% of Americans not affiliated with a religion strongly oppose the overturning of Roe versus Wade. Fourteen percent somewhat oppose it, 25% somewhat approve, and only 10% strongly approve.

Enacting laws prohibiting abortion can hardly be called the establishment of religion, but it is undoubtedly governmental approval of controversial religious teaching. Our nation has not had a good history when it has forced religious beliefs on unwilling citizens. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages for 13 years in the early 20th century proved to be a windfall for criminal activity. It also prompted many to ridicule religion.

I had personal experience of how ludicrous and self-defeating imposing religious beliefs on unwilling persons is when studying as a newlywed in New Haven, Connecticut in the early 1960s. At that time, this very Catholic state outlawed artificial contraception. I thought I had to travel across the New York border to buy my supply. When I expressed my frustration during a heavy workload, a friend laughingly told me contraception was very prominently displayed in every drugstore. The law prohibited its use but not its sale. The stores almost gleefully promoted the product.

One effort to get around the church-state issue is to claim that “the right ordering of civil society” is a matter of natural or rational law, not faith. That is somewhat disingenuous in our modern technological society which finds it difficult to define what is natural anymore. In the past, natural or rational law was described as what right-thinking persons could agree was healthy. Beyond all the other questionable features of that definition, it is hard to say opposing abortion is natural law when 57% of all Americans oppose the overturning of Roe versus Wade.

The Pro-Life group has pretty consistently based its political activity on freedom of religion. I don’t find it to be a very convincing argument.

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