Ryan Cunningham: Faith Should Not Dominate Measure 1 Debate


At least one church, in Jamestown, placed absentee ballots in the pews advocating for people to vote in favor of Measure 1, dubbed the “personhood amendment” this past weekend.

Parishoners were asked to fill the ballot out, vote in favor of Measure 1, and the church would take care of mailing the ballots for them.

All around the state, clergy and faith advocates have been successful in dominating the Measure 1 advocacy position, attempting to make the debate one of faith versus the secular world.

As a practicing, pro-life Catholic, I am disappointed by how this debate has been delivered to voters.

Over and over, the case has been made that the United States “was founded by Judeo-Christian values”, giving people of faith a pseudo-mandate to govern from the doors of the church.

These same people then state that Measure 1 has become necessary due to legislation from the bench on the part of liberal judges undoing the will of the people.

Can someone tell me where the constitution, the United States Constitution, is in this debate?

I’ll answer my own question: AWOL.

No matter the passion around, or importance of, the issue at hand, Christians must accept that we have no right to govern the state, or the country, from a religious standard.

This concept is hard to swallow when we watch nations around the world govern their people from a fundamentalist Islamic doctrine, or reject the idea that people have religious views in their daily lives altogether.

We, the people, do not get to govern those countries. We get to govern ours, and by the document set up to direct that governance.

The first amendment of the US Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The very first change made to the constitution, made in 10 words, specifically says no law respecting an establishment of religion will be made in our country. The idea that the United States can be governed with a set of “Judeo-Christian values” is specifically defeated by the first 10 words added to the first amendment.

Many societal laws may have been based on Judeo-Christian values, but our governing document specifically prohibits these values being exclusively Judeo-Christian.

They are the laws of the United States, period.

Measure 1, or any attempt to outlaw abortion or euthanasia, must be presented on the merits of the laws of our land, not on faith-based principles. Consider the 14th amendment:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction there of, are citizens of the United States and of the State where in they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

In short, define person, then incorporate your definition of person into this amendment, and argue the merits that abortion and euthanasia deny people their right to life and liberty without due process.

The challenge for Christians in the United States is to accept the fact that our laws allow for people of opposing views and values to take a dump all over our faith. We can respond through the free exercise of our religion, but we do not have the right to enforce our values on others as a defense of our religion.

If Christians are looking for some religious confirmation of this premise, consider the Gospel of Mark, and one of the biggest tests Jesus Christ faced in public, when asked if it were religiously lawful to pay taxes to the government.

Jesus said simply, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

In the end, Jesus may have been the very first person in the world to understand what it meant to be an American, 1800 years before there was an America. Granted, I believe that Jesus was pro-life, and I believe he was anti-death penalty and anti-euthanasia.

He also knew government may not agree. He called Christians to be good citizens, as well as faithful people, respecting the laws of our land as well as the laws of our church.

Whether we get our lesson on being a US citizen from Jesus or our Constitution, one thing seems clear: faith cannot govern the secular world. It’s time to argue the merits of Measure 1 from our laws, not our faith. Our own laws allow for Measure 1’s passage.