Voting from the pulpit, imposing morality

The claim that we lack the legal right to vote as we please is false in my opinion.

In Susan Schlegel’s March 23 letter to the editor “Voting our conscience,” Schlegel reveals some fundamental confusion. She claims “some people maintain” that we do not have a right to vote according to our religious beliefs, even when this amounts to an imposition of morality upon others and rejects this view.

But she does not say whether she means we have a legal right to vote according to our beliefs – whatever they be – or a moral right to do so. The claim that we lack the legal right to vote as we please is obviously false, and I have never heard anyone claim this. So, presumably, Schlegel means the latter.

This claim is clearly false; indeed it is monstrous. Even if my religion says Christians should be executed, women should be enslaved or people named “Schlegel” should be deported to Canada, my voting for such policies is clearly immoral. I have a legal right to vote for immoral policies, but not a moral one, even if this is supported by my religion (which itself would be immoral if it demands that I support immoral policies).

So Schlegel is either wrong in claiming that anyone opposes her view or wrong in claiming her view is correct, depending upon whether she is talking about legal or moral rights.

While Schlegel correctly insists that laws must often impose morality on others, here, too, her criticism lapses into the absurd claim that we never should have to endorse laws we disagree with.

The real question is not whether we ever have the right to vote our conscience or to impose morality on others, but whether it is or is not moral to vote in certain ways or to impose certain beliefs or behaviors on others.

On some public issues where “religion” is said to be relevant, I suspect I strongly disagree with Schlegel’s moral views, but this is where the debate should be engaged, not on the absurd and obscuring ground of whether we have the “right” to bring religion into the public sphere, which is simply a red herring.

Scott Forschler is a University alumnus. Please send comments to [email protected].