Even with the separation of church and state in the United States, it is frequently difficult to separate religiously driven values from public policy. Ethical frameworks are built for a large cross-section of society, at least in part, from some form of religion, ideal, or philosophy. This means that with a secular or semi-secular government, elements of the predominant religion can often be seen. With that in mind and past mistakes well documented throughout history, I have attempted to keep the commentary regarding religion and law to a minimum.
The question of whether this is the correct path has been a topic of contemplation and mediation for some time. How far is too far? How far is not enough? Is there a point where a religious personage, clergy or lay, should stand up and act in the stead of those without voice or with limited voice? Should the clergy act as an advisor, not judging but giving the benefit of being a part of the original social sciences?
One important aspect of this internal discussion centers around a long disputed precept of secular versus religious… i.e. should ethical or moral compasses be set by an outside agency (often religious in nature) or through an internal sense of right and wrong. Even serving as a religious guide, my own personal views have always leaned towards the use of an internal moral compass. It is because of this internal sense of right and wrong that congregations are given the mandate to stand against those who would use scripture and dogma to their own ends.
As an example (once again one of the most cited), many religions hold a variation of Thou Shalt Not Kill. Unfortunately, as history has shown, this is usually followed by an unspoken “except for those who will not convert, who are different from us, or whose land we want”. When this happens it is imperative for the adherents of a religion or religious organization to step forward and simply say “No, this is not right.”
How involved should religion be in the social aspects of public policy? Over the past decades, we have seen religion stand for revenge, punishment, segregation, discrimination, and a host of other actions that simply put is wrong. History shows that in some cases this is not a new thing. Entire wars have been fought based on the prompting of religious figures.
On the other hand, though, you see examples and benchmarks of how religion can make a difference. Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr. are some of the more relevant examples. Even within the framework of organizations where dogma regularly replaces common sense there are leaders who either singly or in a single shining action may not redeem themselves totally but stand in that moment of time as examples.
It is the duty of good men and women to look inside of themselves and to cry out when wrong is done even in the name of right or religion.