A Response to the Secular “You Shouldn’t Impose Your Religious Views” Crowd
Recently I was asked to speak in Virginia at legislative hearings about embryonic stem cell research. After I gave my testimony, one of the senators asked a pointed question. “Father Tad, by arguing against embryonic stem cell research, don’t you see how you are trying to impose your beliefs on others, and shouldn’t we as elected lawmakers avoid imposing a narrow religious view on the rest of society?” The senator’s question was an example of the fuzzy thinking that has become commonplace in recent years within many state legislatures and among many lawmakers.The claim that “you shouldn’t impose your religious views on others” typically comes from people who are delighted to impose on others views contrary to religion.
Two major errors were incorporated into the senator’s question. First, the senator failed to recognize the fact that law is fundamentally about imposing somebody’s views on somebody else. Imposition is the name of the game. It is the very nature of law to impose particular views on people who don’t want to have those views imposed on them. Car thieves don’t want laws imposed on them which prohibit stealing. Drug dealers don’t want laws imposed on them which make it illegal to sell drugs. Yet our lawmakers are elected precisely to craft and impose such laws all the time. So the question is not whether we will impose something on somebody. The question is instead whether whatever is going to be imposed by the force of law is reasonable, just, and good for society and its members.
The second logical mistake the senator made was to suppose that because religion happens to hold a particular viewpoint, that implies that such a viewpoint should never be considered by lawmakers or enacted into law. Religion teaches very clearly that stealing is immoral. Would it follow that if I support laws against stealing, I am imposing my narrow religious viewpoint on society? Clearly not. Rather, the subject of stealing is so important to the order of society that religion also feels compelled to speak about it.
So anytime we come across a lawmaker who tries to suggest that an argument in defense of sound morals is nothing but imposing a religious viewpoint, we need to look deeper at what may really be taking place. That lawmaker may not be so concerned about avoiding the imposition of a particular view on others — more likely, they are jockeying to simply be able to impose their view, a view which is ultimately much less tenable and defensible in terms of sound moral thinking. Hence they seek to short-circuit the discussion by stressing religious zealotry and imposition without ever confronting the substantive ethical or bioethical argument itself. Once the religious imposition card is played, and Christian lawmakers suddenly become weak-kneed about defending human life and sound morals, the other side then feels free to do the imposing themselves, without having expended too much effort on confronting the essence of the moral debate itself.
The are happy to force taxpayers to fund abortions, or embryonic stem cell research, or gay propaganda in the public schools.
At root, their argument is that religious people have to leave the public square, and allow secular people (and nominally religious people who don’t take religious doctrine very seriously) to make all the laws.
That’s not fair, but it would delight the secular liberals.