“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Mark 12:17
Governments are institutions created by men and women to provide a legal framework for how the society they live in functions. As we know there are many possible types of governments, some with closer ties to religious institutions than others. A few countries actually have an official state religion.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This is related to the concept of the separation of church and state. This not only protects those practicing their own faith from government interference, but is also intended to prevent the government from imposing any one particular set of religious beliefs upon the general public.
History has revealed a wide range of examples of how these concepts have worked out in practice. Conflicts most commonly occur when government policy is seen as encroaching upon religious beliefs.
What is often difficult to sort out is how our laws reflect our values, which for many of us are determined by our faith. Our laws are supposed to contribute to the welfare of everyone, and to be applied impartially.
Many people of faith feel a duty to provide a moral context to our laws and how government institutions work. The challenge is to create laws that enhance the good of everyone without imposing particular religious beliefs on anyone.
Speaking from my own faith background, Quakers believe our faith is part of everything in our lives. One result of that is that Quakers believe we should be engaged in our public discussions of how well our government is working for all, from a practical as well as a moral perspective. The practical part is related to ensuring government works fairly for every citizen. The moral part comes into play when we decide what values the government operates on. For example, many people of faith believe war is immoral, and work to prevent wars and conflicts that lead to them.
Quakers established a national organization, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) in 1943, to lobby in the public interest, to bring a faith perspective to the legislative process.
The opening Bible verse is intended to guide how a person of faith lives in society, which is subject to the laws of the government. But the boundaries between church and state are not always clear. If there is a conflict, the person of faith follows their religious beliefs, even if that puts them at odds with the government, even to the extent of breaking the law.
What prompted this writing this morning is anticipation of what might occur with a Trump/Pence administration. Mr. Trump has not said much about his religious beliefs, but unfortunately Mr. Pence, as governor of Indiana, has actively worked to create laws that impose his religious beliefs. The most glaring example was the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I’m concerned about how this will play out at the national level now.