Rule of law, not religion, is at the heart of US - Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Faith

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Rule of law, not religion, is at the heart of US

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012 9:43 pm

I begin with a statement that I have written over and over again. The United States is a secular nation in which religion is practiced freely.

Our nation was perceived and molded by men of differing religious opinions. In their wisdom, they wrote founding documents that both preserved and excluded religion. The U.S. Constitution is as thoroughly secular as a document can be. No religious document has been given authority by our founding documents. The Bible, the Koran nor the Book of Mormon is allowed into our courtrooms as documents with authority over our public affairs. The Ten Commandments have no more authority over the affairs of our nation than “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

In our history, the rights of people have been established despite religious protest. During those horrible years that ended with the abolition of slavery, preachers across the south were pounding the pulpits and quoting the Bible in support of slavery. It was a secular nation that ended slavery in America. The final word was an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. During the struggles for equal rights for women, once again the opposition was religious authorities quoting the Bible. The struggle was won by a secular nation that imbedded equality for all in our nation with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

During my years as a minister, two additional human rights issues have been dominant in the public square. I have been deeply involved in both issues. The first is the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons. For nearly 40 years I have been involved in the struggle for full acceptance of gay persons in our churches and full rights of gay persons in the affairs of our nation. Because of my involvement in the struggle for gay acceptance, I was shunned by a local ministerial fellowship, the church that I pastored was disfellowshipped by the American Baptist Churches of Alaska, and I was forced into early retirement.

The full legal rights of gay persons are slowly but surely moving along in the court systems of states and the nation. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay persons to serve in the U.S. military is a milestone almost as significant as the Stonewall Riot. Again churches are being dragged toward morality by a secular nation. Just as in the issues of slavery and equality for women, opposition to the establishment of full rights for gay persons has been centered in our churches. Ministers have pounded their pulpits and made their pronouncements quoting the Bible from irrelevant passages. It is the secular U.S. Constitution that will bring justice to our gay citizens.

The second human rights issue of my ministerial years is the right to end a flawed or unwanted pregnancy. Does a woman have the legal right to choose to end a pregnancy, or does that decision lie with government and governmental agencies? 15 years ago, I joined with others and filed a lawsuit against our local hospital when the hospital refused abortion services to a woman who requested those services.

We quickly were able to obtain a temporary injunction against the hospital. The hospital was forced to offer abortion services. Eventually, the case ended up before the Alaska Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The local hospital still operates under a permanent injunction that forces it to offer abortion services.

The process was not easy. There were protest marches and pickets. The local newspaper carried an abundance of stories and opinion columns. Once again in a civil rights issue the protesters were people of deep religious convictions. The air was full of Bible quotes and theological pronouncements. The majority of the community’s religious leaders were a part of the protest. A smaller number were discreetly quiet.

We again learned that we were dealing with a human rights issue in a thoroughly secular setting. The religious rhetoric was loud, but had no legal standing. The issues in the abortion case were argued in civil courts, not in religious tribunals.

Over and over again, political candidates run on platforms of opposition to abortion. It is a vote getter. In reality candidates who run on an anti-abortion platform should know that under the laws of our nation the abortion issue is secular. Deeply religious people argue that life is sacred and must be protected even in the womb. The sacredness of life is an argument that of necessity falls on deaf ears in our courts of law. Our nation was intentionally established as secular. The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. We are reminded by political candidates that the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. This being the case, they should also have the honesty to tell the voting public that the U.S. Constitution has no power to declare anything sacred, including an unborn child.

This secular U.S. Constitution guarantees religious freedom for everyone. Baptists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Muslims, Jews, Lutherans and every other religious group are free to believe and practice their faiths. All are free to have their opinions about abortions, but none of their opinions have legal standing in our uniquely secular nation.

Abortion should be the greatest of all political nonissues. The rule of law, not religion, is at the heart of our nation.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer. His email address is

Opinions expressed on the Faith page are the author’s and are not necessarily those of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, its staff or its parent company, Wick Communications Co. To submit a column or other news for the Faith page, send email to, or call 352-2268.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • discourse posted at 7:31 pm on Mon, Feb 20, 2012.

    discourse Posts: 112

    ok... simply put abortion kills a human being. killing a human being, except in defense of life, is murder. we are no different than the nazis bess... we kill those that are unwanted, and those deemed by some lousy medical test (that may or may not be accurate), to not quite be up to speed. homosexuality is not normal. fundamentally, simply put, the parts don't fit, bess. i don't understand you, but i do understand the warning that we will find 'wolves in sheep clothing', and the enemy seeks to destroy. abortion and homosexuality are contrary to life, bess. and God is life.

  • A Veteran posted at 6:36 pm on Mon, Feb 20, 2012.

    A Veteran Posts: 684

    David, ??????? Your statement makes no sense what so ever. Psychology is a science practice. Not a religion. As for the free practice of religions in America. It is one of the freest nations on the planet on that score.

  • posted at 5:00 pm on Mon, Feb 20, 2012.


    Wrong, religions is NOT practiced freely in the USA. It may be freer then in Cambodia or North Korea sure, but it's rediculous to think religion is allowed to be practiced freely in the USA.

    Take a look at landlords in Anchorage being outlawed (if it passes) to restrict their business to those of their own faith. Or businesses outlawed from leaving the gospel they serve out for all their own employees.

    But the most likely culprit if Psycholgy which is our new national belief systems. Try and live with being on the receiving end of a petition for a divorce in this country WITH kids, no freedom of religion for you. Nor can you protect your own children from Psychotherapy.

    Studies galore proving it is not more "healing" than any religion. Some paid for by the American Psychological Association and anyone pointing it out is called a Scientolgist just because their people noticed?

    Anyone ever notice it's "illegal" to hear from God? Of course, you have, that's why so many (even Christians) are outright afraid to admit even having done so. Heck, even James Dobson denies he's "ever heard audibly from God" as if anyone can BE a Christ follower without it.

    Try worshipping in your own home with a few friends, all of the suden the Burough wants to know what your sewer system was built for.

    Get rid of the idols in your home? Take down pictures and statues (graven images)? Be careful, they might put you through a Guardianship hearing.

    Not in this country.

    Psychology has taken over and it's as bad as the Borg.

  • FORD posted at 8:11 am on Sun, Feb 12, 2012.

    FORD Posts: 488

    Bluecollar, what is interesting about Bess, is his rants against the death penalty for people like Joshua Wade, (Joshua Wade tearfully apologized in Anchorage courts Wednesday for murdering two Anchorage women in random acts of violence in 2000 and 2007.) while demanding the local hospital murder the innocent unborn children upon demand. At least he does acknowledge they are an unborn "child".

    He constantly wants to call the good bad and the bad good. This is why he was booted out of the American Baptist's.

  • bluecollar posted at 12:07 am on Sat, Feb 11, 2012.

    bluecollar Posts: 248

    "I joined with others and filed a lawsuit against our local hospital when the hospital refused abortion services to a woman"; "The hospital was forced to offer abortion services."

    Interesting ministry.

    The heart of our nation is not the rule of law, nor religion Mr. Bess. It is a reverence for truth.

  • A Veteran posted at 9:44 am on Fri, Feb 10, 2012.

    A Veteran Posts: 684

    Good article sir. And you are completely correct. The same arguments used to defend the wrongs of slavery, segregation, womens rights and even inter racial marriage are being used today to defend the wrongs of demonizing gay and lesbians. They fail to see these people as such. But only to label them and their struggle as somethings, deviants or something far less than the human beings they truly are,