It is sometimes objected, by Feminist “Pro-Choice” groups, that “Pro-Life” advocates are seeking to impose their own personal religious opinions on the rest of American society, and that the U.S. Constitution specifically forbids that. Reference is specifically to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which calls for the separation of church and state, and that, according to the “Pro-Choice” groups, means that Judeo-Christian moral principles have no bearing on the law.
But does the Establishment Clause really mean that? Did the Founding Fathers intend to divorce government from morality? Of from religion in general? To do so would have been to repudiate the Declaration of Independence, which had appealed to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” and went on to say that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [and] that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration goes on, near the end, to appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions,” and to declare the reliance of the American people “on the Protection of Divine Providence . . .” We were certainly willing to call upon God when we needed His help and protection. But if there is no Creator, who says that anyone has an “unalienable right” to anything?
Perhaps the best commentary on the intent and meaning behind the First Amendment is James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance.” Madison was the person who actually drafted the First Amendment. He had written his Remonstrance four years earlier in response to an attempt in Virginia to use tax money to support the religious ministry. Although written four years earlier it gives us the clearest picture of Madison’s thinking on the subject, and thus the rationale behind the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment.
In one sense Madison was a proponent of the strict separation of church and state. He certainly did not think that tax money should be used to support the clergy. But does that necessarily entail a separation of the civil law from morality, as some modern secularists maintain? Hardly.
What is perhaps surprising to the modern ear is that Madison based his argument on the sovereign authority of God. Our loyalty to God, he says, comes before our loyalty to any human institution, including the state. Because, as human beings, we are directly accountable to God for our religious beliefs and practices, no human government has a right to interfere. That means that the government cannot take money from its citizens in the form of taxes and give it to the clergy. Which churches to support is a decision for the private citizen alone to make.
Madison took it for granted that a Supreme Being exists. He also held to what is known as the Contractual Theory of Government. States are formed when human beings enter into a kind of social contract with each other to form a body politic. As Madison put it,
“Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society,
he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe;
And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate
Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the
General authority, much more must every man who becomes a
member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his
allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.” (Section 1)
What Madison is arguing, in effect, is that there is a Higher Law, a universal moral law, which takes priority over any human law. The First Amendment, then, presupposes the existence of God rather than denies it.
When the state, then, tries to deny God altogether, it opens the door for human tyranny. If there is no Higher Law by which to judge the moral character of human actions, then there is no basis on which to condemn slavery or genocide. (The U.S. Supreme Court in the past has uphold both slavery and racial segregation.). If there is no right to life that protects the life of the unborn child then there is no right to life that protects the life of the mother. There is nothing “sacred” about human life – that presumably is a religious concept, which, according to the secularists, has no place in civil government. The ante-bellum South and the Third Reich were right all along.
Have we been endowed by a Creator with “certain unalienable rights”? If not, as a human society we are in deep trouble, and that is reflected in the turmoil engulfing America today. May God grant us the grace to see that we need to pursue justice in our society. It is a duty we owe our Creator.