Religion and the policy of the state

There was a very interesting story on The World today, about ultra orthodox Jews protesting at a parking lot in Jerusalem. The 5m story is here, but there's no transcript, so you have to listen to it. I'll provide a brief summary if you don't want to listen to the whole thing.

Essentially, the ultra orthodox Jews of Jerusalem are pitting themselves against the city's secular residents. They have recurring protests at a parking lot which opens on the sabbath. These protests turn violent, throwing stones at the police. They believe that the municipal government is desecrating the sabbath by allowing the lot to remain open on the sabbath. They further believe that Jerusalem should be reserved for sabbath-observing Jews. They move into secular neighbourhoods and then insist that no-one there drive on the sabbath and that women dress modestly on the street.

I thought this was very interesting as a look at the intersection of religious belief and public policy. To what extent should the religious belief of a bloc be imposed on society at large? Christians tend to be against abortion and gay marriage, as they are sins. But nobody is trying to outlaw pre-marital sex and masturbation, so why are we insistent on some issues and not others? Clearly abortion is murder, so that is a more grave issue than the other three examples. But that kind of thing I always found odd. Why is it that some sins, Christians push to be outlawed in civil law, and others not so much. What is to be the basis for our civil laws? If it is Truth, which would rather make sense, then I think you could make the case that objective sins would be outlawed.

Pluralism throws a wrench in this though. The idea of a parking lot not opening on Saturday is just absurd in my mind. Nobody's forcing observant Jews to work there or to park there. There is no reason why Muslims and Christians shouldn't be able to use it on Saturday. Why the ultra orthodox Jews want to insist that non-Jews observe Mosaic law is beyond me. On a matter such as this (from which, perhaps relevantly, I am removed,) I say the answer is clear: the religious belief should not dictate city policy.

But what if we had a state, or a city, which was entirely of a single bloc? Should there happen to be a city which was 100% Catholic, I don't really see a problem with outlawing pre-/extra-marital sex, and meat on Fridays. But if there is even one person not Catholic in the city, those laws wouldn't really be right. Non-Catholics would be free to move into the city, but the city being entirely Catholic, they would have to move understanding that they have to abide by existing law--before Catholic-based laws are passed, the city must be 100% Catholic, or else the laws wouldn't be just. After the Catholic-based laws are passed, any non-Catholic shouldn't be able to rock the boat, as they would be choosing to immigrate to this Catholic city. I think the religious make-up of the city would not change, and there would be no problem.

I don't exactly have a point to this discussion; I haven't made up my mind about the issue: to what extent can religious belief be the basis of civil law? Civil law must have some basis. I still don't think gay marriage is so bad as a civil institution, a guarantee of equal rights, so long as ministers disagreeing with it are free to refrain from performing them. But as the Church says its wrong, I try to shut up about my position on this issue. Were I to ever have to vote on it, I think I just wouldn't vote. It would be difficult to vote with the Church, and I can't in good conscience vote in a way my bishop says is morally wrong.

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