Letter to the editor
Laws not founded upon Christianity
April 24, 2009
Student Voice columnist Shawna Carpentier betrayed woeful misunderstanding of American political history in her column last week, particularly unfortunate for a public liberal arts college like UW-River Falls.
Her most glaring error was in claiming that the “good old U.S. Constitution” asserted humans “‘are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’” But those words appear in the Declaration of Independence, a document that — while written by the incomparably eloquent Thomas Jefferson and rightfully cited as a pivotal document for our nation — has never held force of law. Jefferson himself could not be said to be a Christian in any dogmatic sense, since he rejected the divinity of Christ even as he recognized the philosophical power of Christ’s message.
A better measure of Constitutional intent would be to consult James Madison, “the father of the Constitution.” But he, too, vehemently advocated the separation of church and state, although not as Ms. Carpentier suggests “to keep the government out of God.” Rather, he noted that inter- mixing civil and clerical authorities endangered each in turn: “Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both… I could not have otherwise discharged my duty.”
Simply, Ms. Carpentier errs in her assertion that the laws of this nation were founded on Christianity, unless she is defining “foundation” in only the vaguest sense, in which case I would like to remind her that Christianity is “founded” on Mithraic cults and ancient Sumerian mythologies.
More important than all of this, though, is the mystifying suggestion that the current movement against gay marriage is not about dis- crimination or impediments to others’ happiness. If that movement seeks to refuse a certain segment of consent- ing adults the right to enter arrangements of their choosing equal to those others can enter freely, and if it strives to use the U.S. Constitution to do so, then it is clearly about just those two things.
If Christians wish to define marriage on their own terms and sanction certain types of unions in their churches, they are free to do so. That does not mean, however, that they have the right to define the civil terms for those who do not share their religious convictions. The Constitution is a civil document of great democratic power, and it enumerates rights; it is not supposed to restrict them. As a civil document, it ought to serve secular ends. Christians should refer to their Bibles and take Christ’s advice: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus, it seems, has much to teach his followers, if only they would listen.
Andrew Bergquist, English department