While not explicitly stated in the U.S Constitution, the separation of church and state has long been understood as a key feature of American life. Perhaps that makes a recent Pew Research study all the more concerning. Their survey found that nearly half of Americans believe that the Bible should influence U.S. laws.
The results showed 49% of Americans believe that the Bible should at the very least have “some” influence on the law. Nearly a quarter (23%) believe that the Bible should have “a great deal” of influence on the law.
Naturally, there is a significant split amongst religious and non-religious groups with 63% of Christians from various denominations feeling that the Bible should have some impact on lawmaking, compared to just 4% of Atheists. Respondents to the survey were also asked what should take precedence when the will of the people conflicts with the teachings of the Bible.
Over a quarter of Americans (28%) answered that the Bible should win out. Interestingly, it's people in this same demographic who are often the loudest critics of "Sharia law." A bit of a headscratcher, that.
A Religious and Political Divide
It likely comes at no surprise to find that the respondents' political party preference affected their answer. 67% of those who preferred the Republican party responded that the Bible should have at least some effect on the law compared to 33% of those preferring the Democratic party.
The divide amongst religious denominations varied significantly as well – only a small minority of Jewish people agreed the Bible should have some impact, while at the top end 89% of evangelical Protestants thought so.
There is a significant possibility that survey respondents had “biblical (or traditional) marriage” in the back of their minds when answering questions, as Pew Research found that over 50% of Protestants still oppose same-sex marriage despite it being legalized nationwide since 2015. Some states, often where Christians make up a majority of the population, have used religious convictions to justify laws that ultimately restrict the rights of same-sex couples. The resulting consequences range from allowing groups to deny same-sex couples the ability to adopt a child, to allowing companies to refuse to provide them wedding supplies.
But the impact of these beliefs extends into education, as well. Evangelical groups in Washington fought against a recent sex-education bill because, as evangelical group My Faith Votes stated, “students will be taught that homosexual sex is just as normal and good as heterosexual sex." In Ohio, a bill was introduced that would prevent teachers from penalizing a student for an incorrect answer if that answer was rooted in the student’s religious belief.
How Religion Already Impacts U.S. Law
It’s also important to note that 28 U.S. states still have “blue laws”, which restrict certain activities on Sundays (and additional days as well) for religious purposes. The Supreme Court has upheld these laws, saying they are constitutional because they guarantee the free practice of religion as well as providing a day of rest for certain workers.
It wasn’t until 2003 that state “sodomy laws” – laws that prohibited same-gender sexual behavior – were declared unconstitutional nationwide by the U.S. Supreme Court, effectively overturning a 1986 ruling which supported the notion that states have the right to criminalize what they believe to be “immoral behavior,” a belief still held by many religious groups.
The U.S. military also has a long history of discriminating against homosexual service members based off Biblical beliefs, actively outing and expelling gay, lesbian, and bisexual members. "Dont Ask, Don't Tell was overturned in 2012, but transgender individuals were not allowed to serve until 2016 because they were regarded at the time to be “mentally ill and unfit for service.” A year after these individuals were allowed to serve in the military, President Trump reversed this decision and continued the practice of barring transgender individuals from serving.
Putting God Into Politics
As Americans are increasingly leaving religion behind, evangelicals in particular have ramped up the fight to incorporate Biblical beliefs into law. Many evangelical leaders have become close allies of President Trump in recent years and have relied on him to support and push for legislation that benefits religious groups.
Religious freedom has returned to the forefront of political conversation as religious groups have pushed back against laws that they feel contradict Biblical teachings, while supporting laws that prioritize their right to practice religion – even if it leads to discrimination against certain groups.
If America was founded on the belief of free practice of religion, to what degree should the Bible be involved in lawmaking? Can a secular country remain secular if one religion’s beliefs are elevated over others? Should the Bible really supersede the will of the people?