Before Invoking God’s Law, Follow the Golden Rule

Chris DeMatteo (Courtesy of the author)


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To the Editor:

The Ten Commandments were, according to the Book of Exodus, relayed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, not the Ten Amendments. American law, which has often drawn from ancient law and codes, including the Bible, ultimately is the creation of people.

In 1776, the drafters of the Declaration of Independence cited the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” before declaring that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” They further noted that rights are secured by governments which are “instituted among men” and derive their “just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

A little more than ten years after the United States declared its independence, the framers of our Constitution came up with Article VI, which provides that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Four years later, in 1791, the First Amendment to the new Constitution was ratified, the very first sentence of which holds that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Individual lawmakers and even judges continue to invoke religion–typically theirs–in policies and decisions. Just last week, the Alabama Supreme Court decided that embryos are considered persons subject to the state’s wrongful death statute. It is a decision largely based in a religious belief that life begins at conception. The court’s chief justice, in a concurring opinion, noted that Alabama adopted a “theologically based view of the sanctity of life.” 

Fetal personhood is something that can probably now be legislated by states following the United States Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which held that there is no Constitutional right to abortion, overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Without further protections, it can impact families who are trying to have children through in vitro fertilization (IVF). 

When looking at laws of nature and God as the bases for our own law, we should start with the Golden Rule, articulated by Jesus as “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” It is a universal rule of humanity. Confucius, centuries before Christ, for instance, stated it in the negative as, “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.” In more recent history, Pres. Lincoln stated in 1858, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” 

Legislators, executives and judges are certainly entitled to religious liberty. We all are. It is a right the founders of our country believed worthy of legal protection. In addition to having that right, they have the added responsibility to protect it. Just as religion was neither forced on or forbidden from them by law, they should not seek to impose theirs on others through official actions. 

There are numerous interpretations of what is purported to be the word of God, as evidenced by the sheer number of religions and denominations. Leviticus’ prohibition on eating shellfish for instance, would likely not fly as a law of general applicability in a New England state. 

We do not elect federal judges or, in Connecticut, our state judges. We do however elect those who appoint and confirm them. 

Chris DeMatteo is an attorney in New Haven