Stuck at the intersection of church and state

Americans debate a lot of things. Such discussions most often lead, if the participants are willing, to basic issues of fairness and justice. We ask each other why things happen in our world and why such-and-such should be a priority or a non-priority. Our answers to those questions stem from our individual belief system — i.e., the way we view the world in the most basic sense of what’s right and wrong.

Some believe that everything around them — every good or bad thing encountered — is testimony to a higher power that all of us must acknowledge regardless of our own experiences and system of thought. Their opinions on acceptable behavior, on how society should function, are more important, they argue, than whatever government may dictate because those opinions have been forged after careful scrutiny of a deity’s word.

On the other end of the spectrum are individuals who find no place within the public square for any discussion not based in tangible fact. The sacred, they say, is something to be held close to one’s heart and useful only in personal dealings. Even as they strive toward universal philosophy within public policy such as the Golden Rule, they refuse to acknowledge the role religion has played in its advancement.

As we saw as a part of the 2011 Iowa General Assembly, there is no middle ground for any such individuals. At one end it is believed everyone would be better off if local, state and federal laws were wholly replaced by words they recognize as the highest law possible — their perception of what their god desires and demands. At the other, a complete section of human experience is expected to be carved off and set aside.

Most of us, however, fall somewhere between the two extremes. We recognize the power of experience and faith — religious or otherwise — and understand that government should serve all people. It is likely this majority, which is always seeking to strike compromise and appear moderate, that keeps the wedge issues smoldering. After all, regardless of good intentions, no amount of compromise will ever provide enough or limit enough for those on the outer fringes — and each group will do its best to force every conversation and debate back to black-and-white.

For example, in acknowledgment of the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade privacy decision, Iowa Rep. Betty De Boef, R-What Cheer, took to the chamber floor and announced the challenges facing the Iowa Courts in regard to child abuse and other matters of family law were clearly a result of legalized abortion.

Last week [Iowa Supreme Court] Chief Justice [Mark] Cady laid out the State of the Judiciary before us. One thing he mentioned is the huge increase in case loads as a result of juvenile delinquency and child abuse. I submit to you today that a significant amount of the increase in these costs is the result of a judicial system that has abandoned natural law — god’s law. …

This ruling [Roe] tells young girls the product of their womb is only valuable if they want it. It tells them that if they do not it is expendable and it can be burned in an incinerator. Iowa law currently tells them that they can do this through the sixth month of pregnancy and longer, if their doctor so desires to claim that they have a health problem. …

De Boef referred to recent news reports about a Huxley woman who has pleaded not guilty in the death of her newborn twin daughters, and inferred that women who take the lives of their children are doing so because they cannot see or understand the difference between abortion and infanticide. Likewise, she inferred medical doctors are willing and do distort scientific facts for the sole purpose of ending an otherwise healthy pregnancy.

De Boef also had a few things to say regarding the April 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that found a legislative ban on same-sex marriage to be a violation of the state’s equal protection clause:

… As a direct result of this ruling, we now have a local judge that has gone one step further. This judge has ruled that two women must be listed on a baby’s birth certificate as the natural parents of a little girl. If this were not so egregious it would be laughable — just ask any third grader. …

Polk County District Judge Eliza Ovrom did not provide same-sex parents a constitutional right for automatic placement on their children’s birth certificates, but did provide that existing policy by state agencies must follow Iowa law without discrimination. That is, if the state automatically places the name of both married parents on a birth certificate, it cannot decide to forgo that policy simply because the married parents happen to share the same gender.

What I know for sure is that there is no use arguing or debating these issues — or really any issue — with De Boef and those who believe as she does. Her statements leave no room for questions regarding access by the Huxley woman to prenatal or behavioral health care, much less guilt or innocence. She leaves no room for further debate as to why the state agency chose to automatically list married couples as parents on birth certificates.

The only arguments she has — that she’ll ever have for any policy decision in state government — is whether or not it fits into her belief system. If it doesn’t, the well is poisoned and absolutely nothing good can ever emerge from it.

The political extremes in our state and nation haven’t just set up on opposite sides behind their lines in the sand. They’ve erected rock walls and towers and are now happily lobbing fire bombs toward one another. Unfortunately, the bombs never reach the other side, but are falling on the masses in the middle.

It is time for those of us left standing in the middle to do a little house (and senate) cleaning. No matter how titillating the political show may be, we can no longer afford to allow either end of the extreme to play substitute for real governance.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


A Republican turned Democrat who is now registered with no party, Lynda is the founder of Essential Estrogen. She and her husband live in eastern Iowa with their two (mostly good) children and two (mostly good) dogs. Their oldest child was turned loose on the world in 2011 and is making her home in another state. A journalist, essayist and hobby fiction writer, Lynda's work has been seen in Salon, RH Reality Check, the Atlantic, The Iowa Independent, UK Guardian as well as other online and traditional publications. She has also appeared as a guest on various television and radio news shows.

3 Responses to “Stuck at the intersection of church and state”

  1. Jerry
    January 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    You have pointed out the “bombs” being thrown by the De Boef side in the debate, but you have not quoted any “bombs” being thrown toward her. Are you sure both sides are throwing bombs?

  2. Dusty Crisan
    January 30, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    And massive amounts of political ads do matter.

  3. February 2, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Jerry, I don’t believe there are any elected officials from the other extreme — at least not any in Iowa. As a general rule, I don’t think such individuals have historically been electable.

    As for the bombs, you’ve seen the after-effects of them even if you didn’t recognize their explosion. Those who believe that expressions of faith, even those that don’t seek to stymie workable public policy, have no business in the public square have effectively stifled some of the outspokenness of our elected officials.

    In other words, I think that faith is one of many facets within public discussions on the road to developing and executing public policy, but that it isn’t effective as a starting point. Those who are determined to either remove all expressions of faith or force all to subscribe to their personal beliefs are not working in the public’s best interest.