There’s an old joke about a priest, a minister, and a rabbi discussing the beginning of life. The priest explains that, in the Catholic Church, life begins when a child is conceived in the mind of God; the pastor explains that in the Protestant church life begins with conception, and the Jewish rabbi explains that in Judaism life begins when the dog dies and the children leave the house.
But that joke isn’t funny anymore.
By quashing Roe v. Wade, a Catholic majority on the United States Supreme Court implicitly applied her religious belief on when life begins to deny the right to abortion throughout pregnancy.
This is hardly a jurisprudential point of view. Presumably, pregnancy is a matter of privacy, protected by the constitution, until a human being is present and only then is it a matter of “inalienable right to life “. The question of abortion should therefore be the question of the beginning of life, as in the joke. A layman might argue, for example, that life only begins when there is a heartbeat or neurological activity.
If Catholic beliefs continue to dictate court decisions, the court will invalidate rights and behaviors that the Catholic view stands in the way of heterosexual procreation, including rights that permit contraception, sodomy, homosexuality and homosexual marriage. This is not in keeping with the history of our country.
“Originalists” in the field should remember that the United States of America and even our Bill of Rights were born out of fear of Catholic domination. The Puritans fled England and created the rights we cherish lest their Catholic kings, the Stuarts, would force another ruler, the pope, to share sovereignty with the British parliament or the British people in violation of the cherished Whig principle that there could be no imperium in imperio, no sharing of sovereignty.
Originalists should also remember that England’s Bill of Rights after we modeled our own Bill of Rights was written to protect British citizens from the threat of Catholic rule. America’s right to bear arms, for example, to which conservatives attach so much importance, stems from the seventh article of the English Bill of Rights which specifically guarantees “Protestants” this right.
During the Age of Enlightenment, we passed from an age of faith to an age of reason to separate ourselves from the precepts of religious dogma. Tom Paine wrote his “Age of Reason” (the work that gave us the expression) to achieve this goal.
Separation of church from state is an essential element of American freedom and democracy. The United States Supreme Court should be aware of this fact.
Richard N. Rosenfeld lives in Gloucester and is the author of “American Aurora, A Democratic-Republican Returns”. (St. Martin Press).