I live in one of the flyover states — Arkansas — and I understand the irritation that many of us in the middle feel when we are sneered at by the effete coasts. That being said, there are times when I have to ask my fellow inhabitants of the interior to stop embarrassing the team.
An example of this is Kansas. Jokes about the state are clichéd to the point of falling flat, and Dorothy is overworked in telling us where we no longer are. Add to those the fact that the state is the home of the Westboro Baptist Church, and I am willing to consider whether the state has suffered enough.
That is until Kansas comes up with yet another strike against humanity such as the announcement on the 4th of May that the state will allow adoption agencies that take taxpayer funds while being operated by religious groups to refuse to serve same-sex couples who are seeking to give a home to a child. This is in a state in which five thousand children in foster care and some nine hundred awaiting adoption.
This may sound like a small number, but the total in the United States as a whole runs into the hundreds of thousands, and in any case, the idea that an adoption agency would turn away worthy homes when the need exists is a greater extravagance with resources than we ought to allow.
The problem, of course, is that fundamentalists do not see same-sex couples — among many other groups, though the attention of those who would deliver us unto a theocracy is on matters of sex — as being capable of providing the necessary environment for raising successful and mentally healthy children.
As with the age of the Earth and the origin of humans, the fundamentalists have things wrong here. Children who are raised in a family with two parents of the same sex show no differences in their well being and ability to thrive in adulthood as a group from children who grow up with heterosexual parents. There is some willingness to experiment with same-sex relationships and to see sexual orientation as more fluid, and that is an outcome that will feel threatening to church leaders who depend on butts in seats for their income, since LGBT young adults see conservative varieties of religion as being hostile to them and are less interested in participating.
My concern, however, is not with the numbers of people who go to church or similar on a regular basis. Nor should that have to be a concern for lawmakers. In our system of government, public policy must win or lose on the basis of its secular merits, not on theological grounds.
Why is this? I could answer that the Constitution makes it so and leave it there, but that answer neither satisfies social conservatives these days nor offers an explanation as to what makes a pluralistic society better.
If, for example, we were seeking a nation in which most people identify with some church and regular attendance is something the believers do, the American model is one of two options. The other is the approach taken in many Muslim-majority nations where religion and state are kept from going hand in hand because they are already parts of the same entity.
The objection will be raised here that what I said above refers to Islamic nations, but the mechanisms of social policy do not take on gentler qualities merely by changing the label. If one religion can force participation, society is a demographic shift away from having another religion employing the tools provided by the previous one. And in the American spirit of things, is it not better to have willing participants?
Though I will exercise a right protected by one part of the First Amendment and say that adoption agencies that are run by churches are being hateful to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to welcome children in need into their homes, that is as far as I will go, allowing them to take advantage of a different part of that amendment, so long as the programs are using church money. When they take taxpayer funds, they have moved into the business of all of us.
And therein lies something that these church agencies would do well to bear in mind. The political climate at present favors their doctrinal requirements. But when religion and state blend, religious institutions find themselves subject to political whims. The fruit of such a grafting may not be to the liking of the faithful in the future.
The First Amendment and similar laws on the state level was designed to prevent the crossing over of the state’s apples and religion’s pine cones into each other’s lands, and while the speaker in Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” questions the need of fences between neighbors, history shows us that faith and political power are at their best when they stay within their respective boundaries.
What Kansas has done will surely be challenged in the courts and rightly so. For the sake of our free society, it is best that as a nation and in the individual states, we refrain from adopting their misguided policy.