This week’s Pizza & Politics focused on religious freedom and the government’s role in defending religious beliefs and religious practices.
The Leavitt Center Student Director Jake Richins began the discussion by reminding students what the Constitution explicitly mentions about religious freedom. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Students were given examples of Supreme Court cases that had been deemed in violation of either the establishment clause or the exercise clause. The examples were given to illustrate how the First Amendment has been interpreted in the court system, and how that may differ from what is expressly written in the amendment.
Students were asked what they thought about religious protection laws, known as “Faith Shield laws” that protect parents from child abuse and neglect charges on the basis of religion. The example that was given was the Followers of Christ, a religious group that doesn’t believe in nor do they participate in modern medical practices or techniques.
Many students felt that protecting the children in groups such as The Followers of Christ was necessary and that the government had a responsibility to do so. They felt that because it is illegal to medically neglect your child, religion should not be used as grounds for exemption.
The opinion was shared that freedom of religion cannot be absolute, and that exceptions are necessary when health and safety is jeopardized in the name of religion.
The conversation then shifted from health issues to actual religious practices, specifically polygamy, and whether or not outlawing these practices would put the participants on the fringes of society. The point was raised that many of the issues that result in criminal charges and convictions within groups that practice polygamy are in fact separate crimes than that of actual polygamy and that it is important that the separation be made.
One student shared the opinion that the government should not be able to tell consenting adults that they cannot participate in plural marriages. They felt that that was not the place for government interference. Another student countered that it is important to protect children born into plural marriages from being forced to participate in the same practices.
In the end, students agreed that this is an important topic of discussion and that keeping the dialogue open is important to understanding people’s differences, whether religious or not.
To participate in the discussion, attend Pizza & Politics every Wednesday at 12 p.m. in the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service located in the Sharwan Smith Student Center.
Lily Shurtleff for SUU News