To the editor:
For the past several months I have been participating in online discussion of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. I would like to comment on a statement often made by the anti-amendment group, namely: "Don't try to force your religion on me."
What exactly do people mean by that statement? Obviously, they do not mean that the supporters of the amendment are somehow trying to force them to enter a place of worship and bow the knee before whoever or whatever that religion calls its deity. That certainly would be "forcing your religion" on a person. But that's not happening now, and it's unlikely to happen in the future. No one in this debate is trying to force anyone else to worship or serve a deity against his will.
When someone inserts "Don't try to force your religion on me" into a debate on public policy, that person is expressing his opinion on the role of religion in public life. His opinion goes something like this: "I want to live my life free from all unwanted religious influence. If there is to be any religious influence at all in my life, I want to be able to control where and when that occurs. And when it comes to public policy matters, people should pack up their religious principles into a storage box and leave that box at home when they vote."
What such a person seeks is a society in which those who hold to no religious principles have control over the institutions of society, while those who hold to religious principles are encouraged to sit in the corner and be quiet.
Our U.S. Constitution guarantees us freedom to worship as we wish. It does not guarantee anyone the right to be free from the influence of religion on society. It is true that America is not a theocracy. At the same time, however, America is not atheocratic. Americans, for the most part, hold to some religious idea of God, and those ideas often find expression in our public institutions and our form of government.
Some people don't like this, particularly when the religious views of their fellow Americans intrude into areas where they would prefer to exclude God from the discussion. But those people are taking a very narrow and self-centered view. The influence of religion on our public institutions and on the civil society has been a good and positive one. It is one of the things that has made America the best place to live on this earth.
The free exercise of religion has been a great blessing to our country, not only in the private lives of individual citizens, but also in American society at large. We should not think twice about whether or not to base our votes on our religious beliefs. We should vote our consciences in the confidence that in doing so, we are providing a great public benefit to our fellow citizens.
Michael A. Thom