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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Should We Separate Religious Beliefs from the Law?

Before we start, realize that I am not going to debate the merits for or against Colorado's recent legislation, as it has no bearing on my topic. So, no matter what your position on that issue, you can rest easy and keep reading. I only offer that disclaimer because it has direct bearing on the topic I do address below.

William Kinne is a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, He identifies as a Christian, and he supports Colorado's legislation for same-sex unions. In a recent Op-Ed piece he was quoted saying, "I think it's a civil-rights issue. I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law." His wife Rachel disagrees, stating: "I believe we [should] vote based on our moral beliefs."1

Kinne's response is as worrisome as it is common today. It shows how fragmented and compartmentalized our modern society has become, and how sloganeering has replaced clear-thinking on some very important issues. Especially troublesome is the contradictory nature of his statements. Can one separate his religious beliefs from the law? Should one do so? Really, one doesn't have to spend a lot of time thinking about these issues to see where the flaws in Kinne's statements appear.

First of all, what is religion? Today, many people would say it is what one believes about the existence of God and how that person should worship. It is a private belief that gives comfort and structure to the life on an individual, and each individual will seek out the comfort and structure that best works for him or her. In other words, religion is a pragmatic approach that affects one's individual actions or perhaps the actions of a like-minded group but doesn't really affect the wider world. But this is a relatively recent understanding of what religion is.2 Religious belief encompasses much more than the personal aspects of faith. Religion deals with concepts like why we exist, why there is something rather than nothing, what is right and wrong for all people; basically, any religious system has ultimate realities at its core.

But a great many of our laws are simply a reflection of our beliefs about ultimate realities. For example, we believe that human beings are valuable in and of themselves, so our society passes laws against killing or against discriminating on the basis of race. We value the truth so laws against slander or perjury are passed. While there are tax laws and other procedural legislation, moral values are the foundation for the laws that protect us. These laws reflect our understanding that human beings are intrinsically valuable.

When we talk about concepts like value, we are talking about something the Germans called a Weltanschauung or what is known as a worldview. But one cannot separate religion from worldview like Kinne hopes because religion plays a central role in informing one's worldview. Philosopher Brendan Sweetman notes, "Every time we make a moral judgment, or make a claim about the nature of reality, or about what sort of beings human beings are, or about whether God exists, or about the nature of the good life, or about which political system is best, or about whether a law should be passed regarding such and such, we are appealing to our worldview."3

Sweetman classifies worldviews into broadly religious and secular types.4 An irreligious person would have a secular worldview while a religious person would have a religious one. However, one cannot have a secular AND a religious worldview. Whether or not God exists is a worldview question and to say he does and he doesn't is hopelessly confused. Similarly, if one believes in Christianity then one would hold that moral values are grounded in God. Laws should then be a reflection of one's understanding of how God would have us treat one another. To make a claim that "I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law" is contradictory.

I think we need Christians to challenge this mistaken concept of religion as only a private matter. Perhaps we should question those who would object to religion informing the law as to what they base their ideas of morality and equality. Do they truly believe that all men are created equal? Why? By centering our discussion on worldview instead of faith, we may be able to get farther and help others understand how all ones beliefs should work together to form a consistent whole. A consistent view is to be preferred over a cloistered one, and I've found no worldview more consistent than Christianity.


1. Brownstein, Ronald "Danger Ahead for Democrats: The Passion Gap."
July 11, 2013. <> Accessed July 13, 2013.
2. The early 20th century French sociologist Emile Durkin defined religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." The Encyclopedia of Religion and Society classifies such views as "functional definitions". For more on this, see their entry "Definition of Religion" at
3. Sweetman, Brendan. Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2006. 17.
4. Ibid.


  1. It's true that religion isn't just a private matter, and Rachel Kinne is right that you should vote based on your moral beliefs, but these points don't conflict with the basic principle of separation of church and state. That's where you're confused.

    Does your moral belief mean you should force your moral beliefs on others? That's the key question.

    You can talk about your beliefs publicly and urge others to follow your beliefs, but we draw the line when it comes to passing laws. Likewise, the President can call on God and pray in public if he wants to, but he should be careful not to evangelize or coerce people into following his particular religion, because he's President of all citizens, both saints and sinners. And the government's purpose isn't to save souls.

    The government's purpose is just to organize society in a basic practical manner so people can build prosperous lives. People of every religion can agree on that. Government is all about coming together and making agreements with people who are different from you. It's takes a certain mutual respect or tolerance.

    And no, tolerance doesn't mean you agree with them. It just means you work with them on things you do agree about. And you let them do what they want in their private lives.

  2. Hello my name is Larry Jones ever since June 25 I been going threw changes I been speaking the word of God I'm moved by the spirit it tells me to surrender my life to God to separate religion from law Jesus Christ died for that one reason so us as Christian to love and show true love I gave up money my job my family to do the will of the lord but I need help and fellowship im on Facebook I have answer to questions that know one wants to answer I'm wait on God we stand in our own way and become or own devils and slave's to our self's and follow our own understanding when we stopped listening to God we losing our faith and it's reflection is showing in the world we our destroying our self's and the God given world we live in be become greedy and I'm sorry i ever played a part in it now I'm standing up for a change for the world to see thanks God bless


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