OPINION: SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

BY ALEXA GANZEVELD, TRUMPET FEATURE WRITER

The establishment clause is the clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits the establishment of religion by Congress. 

This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.

“I don’t think it’s so much a matter of having to make a distinction between the sacred and secular as an individual. It has more to do with thinking about are the laws we’re creating disadvantaging or advantaging any particular religious tradition or ideology,” Rev. Dr. Brian Beckstrom, dean of spiritual life at Wartburg College, said.

In September, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Barrett hasn’t attempted to conceal her beliefs on divisive social issues such as abortion. As a profoundly religious woman, her background involves a populist movement of charismatic Catholicism.

“It may be that [politicians] feel that particular law which, although it might conflict with their own personal religious beliefs, is a good thing for the country or protects the rights of others. I think it’s something that takes a lot of self-reflection to be able to determine,” Beckstrom said.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, Trump’s two previous nominees, had typical backgrounds that are considered traditional for Supreme Court nominees of both parties, featuring Ivy League schools and government jobs on their résumé in addition to establishment religious beliefs.

Barrett encompasses a divergent form of conservatism. Barrett also has experience of clerking for Justice Antonin Scalia. The late justice repeatedly — and scathingly — made clear that he did not believe in any constitutional protection for abortion rights, and that the court was being cowardly.

Scalia was a devout Catholic who strongly opposed abortion and LGBT rights throughout his career. He was also a proponent for a lower wall of separation between church and state – a faulty barrier that would allow affirmations of God by government. All of this pandered him to religious and social conservatives that shared similar views.

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“Politicians utilize the moral compass that religion has provided them. I think that from that standpoint, that’s where I see religion’s role in politics. I think that the idea that religion has to be completely isolated from politics entirely is very naïve and in a lot of ways, stupid, to put it simply,” said Reid Kallenbach, president of the Wartburg College Republicans and Wartburg College Turning Point USA.

The relation between Scalia’s Catholicism and his judicial decision-making was convoluted, however. On one hand, his intensely religious beliefs may have reinforced the certainty of his convictions when it came to legal reasoning.

“Religion is one of the things that people hold very near and dear to their hearts because a lot of religious beliefs and kind of moral ethics are things that people take and transfer into their everyday lives,” Kallenbach said.

Alternately, Scalia vehemently denied that he let his Catholic beliefs dictate his legal judgment.

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a Catholic judge,” Scalia said in a 2010 interview with the Catholic Review. “The only article in faith that plays any part in my judging is the commandment ‘thou shalt not lie.’”

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“There’s nothing really that can stop politicians from having their religious bias if they choose to. It really just depends on who elects them. If they see that as an issue or not,” said Wyatt Hintermeister, President of the Wartburg College Democrats. “How I would like to see it is if politicians were sustaining their beliefs in a way that does not affect or harm anybody else’s decision or religious freedoms.”

If nominated, Barrett would be one of six conservative judges on the Supreme Court. Five of the current eight justices are Catholic.

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