Saturday, February 19, 2005

Governed by conscience?

by Mark West

As his bill, HR1005 failed to be passed in the Arkansas House, Representative Buddy Blair (D – Fort Smith) said, “Apparently, the churches are dictating how they vote, not their conscience.” Blair argued that those voting against his bill were in essence voting against both the United States and Arkansas Constitutions.

Representative Blair’s above suggestion creates a concern in my heart. I’m concerned that our future will see similar efforts to abridge our First Amendment rights. Even more problematic was that the First Amendment is cited as a reason for abridging it.

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Blogger Mark West said...

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The First Amendment of the United States Constitution state that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Representative Blair’s argument was that the first clause, also known as the establishment clause, was written to prevent elected officials from drawing upon their religious beliefs when passing law. In his arguments, he cited Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” as a reason to keep people from voting in line with their religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, he failed to contextualize Jefferson’s comments. Jefferson was writing to assure Baptists that the clause would prevent the fledgling government of the United States from following the suit of the elder British government. Britain had an official religion under the name of the Church of England. Baptists had been persecuted by the government church and came to America with the hope that such persecution wouldn’t follow them here. Jefferson was assuring them that there would be no legal means for a government church or religion.

However, I argue that laws such as the one proposed by Representative Blair are in defiant conflict with the second lesser known clause of the First know, the one that guarantees that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. If HR1005 had passed, it would have prohibited Arkansas Congresspersons from freely exercising their religious beliefs. Language stricken from the bill said that government should “operate independent of religious influence.”

In Christianity, we are to have our conscience yielded to the dictates of Christ ahead of any other. Our Christ-centered conscience should guide us in our decision-making. Representative Blair also said, “I thought that when you’re elected, you’re supposed to vote your conscience and what your constituents want, not what your church wants.”

Blair’s comment has three major misconceptions that I will address. The first misconception is that elected Christians somehow have a conscience that is uninfluenced by their religious beliefs. Restraining Christian’s from voting their religious beliefs would be to force them to vote against their conscience.

Secondly, it was for their beliefs that they were elected by their constituents in the first place, not in spite of them! If their constituents had a problem with the way they voted the constituents would vote them out of office. We have a representative democracy here in America. People elect others who represent what they believe. Blair assumes that Congresspersons are acting against the will of their constituency, such would be political suicide.

Finally, people make up both the church and the constituency that elects our Congresspersons. It is a false concept to expect people not to vote simply because they are affiliated with a church! Denial of church member’s rights to vote for and elect representatives is nothing more than bigoted disenfranchisement. Church members are constituents too! Churches are not some amorphous organization, but rather gatherings of normally like-minded individuals who each deserve a right to vote.

I urge our Congress to prevent future usurpations of the First Amendment rights of elected officials by passing the following resolution.

State of Arkansas
85th General Assembly
Regular Session, 2005 HR ___

By: Representative __________________



WHEREAS, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”; and

WHEREAS, Section 24 of Article 2 of the Arkansas Constitution grants all persons the right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences and prevents the government from preferring one religious establishment, denomination, or mode of worship over another,


THAT the House of Representatives reaffirms its support of the principle of separation of church and state; and

THAT the House of Representatives will by no means legislate in such manner as to prohibit any person whether elected, appointed or civilian from freely exercising their religious beliefs; and

THAT the House of Representatives will by no means legislate in such manner as to establish any one religion, denomination, or mode of worship as the official state church.

Join me in urging your representatives to pass this legislation to protect the First Amendment rights of future office holders.

12:49 PM, February 19, 2005  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Rep. Blair discounts the possiblitiy that it is religious faith itself that enlivens and strengthens "conscience". Athiest governments in the 20th century (communists) inflicted mass suffering on their people precisely because they had a non-religious idealogy that would self-justify every heinous thing they did.

It is the knowledge of God that empowers the conscience. It is not a choice between one's religion and one's conscience. I would not trust the so-called "conscience" of an athiest.

Without God there is no reason to assume that even human life is sacred- and thus no differnece between helping an old lady across the street and running her down. Athiest governments run their people down.

2:02 PM, February 21, 2005  
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