Muftic: The rule of secular law is the law of our land
As a former county clerk myself, the county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because it violated her religious beliefs got me thinking about the differences between a country ruled by laws that were secular, not connected with religious or spiritual matters, and a country ruled by an official state religion. The U.S. is governed by secular laws.
That issue, secular vs. religious rule, dominated debates in American history among and within the Colonies, but it became one of the compromises expressed in the First Amendment when the Constitution was formulated and ratified. It forbade Congress from establishing a state religion and protected freedom to practice one’s own religion.
Our Founding Fathers were influenced by their bitter experience with persecution under the English kings who also served as the religious rulers by divine right an the divisive practices of some colonies, such as the Puritans of Massachusetts, who substituted persecution justified by one religious belief with another just as cruel.
In modern times the issue of separation of church and state has been the subject of many U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Sometimes other constitutional provisions such as the 14th Amendment that established the right of equal protection under the law seem to conflict with the First Amendment. The Supreme Court is the arbiter that resolves those conflicts and they ruled in 2014 that equal protections trumped laws in those states that had passed laws motivated by religious beliefs of their majority forbidding same sex marriage.
A key to a stable, successful democracy is a rule of secular law that protects minority interests. Failure to do so has hobbled many wannabe democracies. The tension within secular states vs. Islamist advocates of Sharia law, the religious laws derived from interpretations of the Koran, have played out in the Arab Spring In Egypt ,deposed President Mubarek’s secular law was replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sharia type laws that resulted in persecution of Christians and others, followed by a military coup that re-established secular law.
In Turkey, a government tried to replace the secular laws of Ataturk (founder of modern Turkey) with more Islamist ones. The result has been many demonstrations, bombings and unrest, attempted power grabs, and changes in leadership. The Nobel Peace Prize was just awarded to a group in Tunisia who hammered out a compromise between Islamists and secularists, though the country is still a home to many Islamic extremists.
Most American elected and appointed officials swear on a Bible to uphold the laws of the land, which are secular. Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because she was acting on her religious beliefs that forbade her to do so. Her action resulted in jail time for contempt of court.
Another Kentucky clerk opined: “ Why take away the majority’s right [just] to give the minority their rights?” Send her back to school for civics lessons. The First and 14th amendments protect minority rights from being trampled by the majority, but they are not enforced under the authority of state-sponsored religion but under the authority of the secular Constitution.
Felicia Muftic served as Denver County Clerk from 1983-1991. For sources tapped for the column visit http://www.mufticforumblog.blogspot.com and also visit the posting: Freedom of religion, a right so often misunderstood
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