Lauren Boebert Is Half-Right on Church and State

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R., Colorado) listens during a press conference of the House Second Amendment Caucus in the US Capitol June 8.



Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado caused a stir in late June when she denounced the separation of church and state as “junk” and proclaimed that “the church should run the government, the government not the church.” She surpassed her usual performance and was half right.

The constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and creates a wide zone in which religious organizations are protected from state interference. But Ms. Boebert seems to have overlooked the founding clause, which prohibits the government from giving any religion – or religion in general – a privileged position to “direct” public policy.

That doesn’t mean—and never has—that religion shouldn’t have an impact on American culture, or that culture shouldn’t have an impact on public affairs. Religion shapes beliefs about what is good and bad, just and unjust, and these beliefs help shape public policy.

But so are forces in our society whose views are not based on or involve religious beliefs. There is no religious test for US public office or citizenship. Atheists and agnostics have as much right as anyone to influence public affairs. No citizen or group of citizens enjoys a privileged right to run the government. The interaction of different, often conflicting views in legislators and courts, as well as in civil society, determines the direction of our government.

When Ms. Boebert speaks of “the church” in the singular, she ignores the apparent reality that America is religiously diverse and that religions differ in ways that affect views on public issues. For example, Orthodox Jews disagree with Catholics and Baptists about the status of the fetus at various stages of development – and thus the circumstances under which abortion may be justified.

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Perhaps Ms. Boebert is quietly elevating the public image of one religion above all others. If so, she is not alone. In the annual American Values ​​Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute last year, 63% of Republicans agreed that being a Christian is important to being truly American. This implies that non-Christians are anything but American and that their views can lead the country away from its true identity.

This explains why 57% of white evangelical Protestants prefer a predominantly Christian society to today’s religiously diverse America. It also helps explain why 80% of Republicans believe America is in danger of losing its culture and identity today. As religious diversity and the proportion of unaffiliated Americans continue to increase, this sense of loss will only increase.

Oddly enough, this fear of losing what is dear to them is one of the few feelings left and right have in common. Since the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade lifted, liberals ask: what rights are safe? In his majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Services, Judge Samuel Alito insists the decision only affects abortion and does not affect other well-established rights such as contraception. But Liberals point to the unanimous opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas, who strongly argues that the court’s decisions on contraception and other contentious social issues have the same legal basis as Roe and should be revisited when the opportunity arises.

As usual, I recommend a strategy of mutual de-escalation. The court is under no obligation to follow public opinion, but has an interest in winning back public support and has suffered a number of self-inflicted wounds through its decisions on voting rights, guns and now abortion. In a recent YouGov poll, just 24% of Americans wanted to overturn the ruling on same-sex marriage rights, only 19% wanted to overturn the legalization of same-sex sexual activity, and only 8% wanted to reverse the case of nationally legalized access to contraceptives. The court would be both wrong and self-defeating to review these cases.

For their part, liberals should retreat from their overly doctrinaire approach to church-state relations. At the end of his most recent term, the court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state of Maine to exclude religious schools from the private school tuition financial assistance program it created for parents in sparsely populated areas with no public schools. Maine is not required to establish such a program, the court said, but once it does, there is no constitutional basis for limiting it to nonreligious schools. I suspect most Americans will see this as reasonable and fair. Liberals should stop invoking Thomas Jefferson’s “separation wall” metaphor to oppose the court’s decision.

These steps will not resolve deep cultural divisions in American society, but they would begin a process that could allow the warring parties to stop seeing each other as an existential threat.

Wonder Land: Democrats always seem on the verge of pushing politics into a state of civil unrest. Images: Getty Images/The Boston Globe Composite: Mark Kelly

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