America closer to having state-imposed, religious based laws

By Robert Barr and Rachel Smith - May 28, 2022 - Cincinnati Enquirer - Op-Ed

Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization proposes an alarming erosion of the vital wall that separates church from state – between personally held religious beliefs and our shared government. If the U.S. Supreme Court adopts the draft opinion, the court will be issuing an historic, precedent-breaking opinion based on the religious beliefs held by many of the current justices. Religion will be dictating public policy.

The establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits all levels of government from advancing or inhibiting religion. The Constitution prohibits the government from favoring one religious view over another or favoring religion over non-religion, and yet that is exactly what this proposed opinion will do. This court’s decision would adopt a narrow religious-based definition of when life begins and impose it on everyone in our nation. While some religions believe life begins at conception, others do not. Yet, the court will impose one set of religious beliefs on everyone.

Judaism holds that a fetus is not a separate and independent life from the pregnant person. Moreover, Judaism recognizes that abortion is allowed if the health or life of the pregnant individual is endangered. This includes psychological health as well.

Justice Alito’s opinion recognizes the diversity of "moral" opinions that exist on the issue of abortion, yet it ignores other religious perspectives. The first sentence of the draft opinion states: "Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views." Yet, reversing Roe and allowing states to adopt draconian anti-abortion laws means that an extreme religious perspective will become the basis for state laws while other religious perspectives are ignored. The wall between religion and government will have crumbled.

The founders of our nation recognized the importance of religious freedom and protected that with the First Amendment. Their goal was to prevent one religion from imposing its religious beliefs on all citizens. Their goal was to ensure that everyone in our nation was allowed to exercise their religious or moral beliefs freely. They were ensuring that one religion’s perspective would not limit others’ rights and freedoms.

The erosion of the separation of church and state is a dangerous path for our nation. If this opinion becomes final, states will be able to limit or eliminate abortion rights and put people’s lives in danger. But also based on this draft opinion, states will be able to restrict or eliminate other rights that the Roe v. Wade precedent currently protects. These other rights include birth control, marriage and privacy. This draft opinion is moving America closer to having state-imposed religious-based laws. This should frighten all of us.

The separation of church and state allows for diverse moral opinions on the issue of abortion and other personal decisions. This is how it should be. This is what our founders intended.

Robert B. Barr is founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland. Rachel Smith is board president.