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By: Dr. D. James Kennedy, Mr. John Buchanan; ©1984
How far should the government go in deciding moral issues? What standard should a government use to decide if something is right or wrong?

Should the Government Legislate Morality?

Introduction

Tonight, what is the relationship of religion to government?

[*** Excerpts of commercials from People For The American Way ***]

James Robison: I am sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the communists coming out of the closets. It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closets, out of the churches and change America. We must do it.
Jerry Falwell: We have got to raise up an army of men and women in America to call this nation back to moral sanity and sensibility. I call that the Moral Majority.
D. James Kennedy: ….Christian freedom in particular which is, I believe, today under serious attack.

[end excerpt]

However there are those who disagree. T.V. producer Norman Lear founded an organization called People For The American Way, whose opinion of such Christians is:

[*** Excerpt People For The American Way commercial ***]

Martin Sheen: If you are alarmed by these voices of intolerance, please call this number. I’m Martin Sheen, a member of People For The American Way. Washington and Jefferson knew the dangers of mixing church and state. Today, extremists are using religion to manipulate political debate. Their aim is to impose their beliefs on you. And if you remain silent they will succeed. Call this number and make your pledge of $15 or more, to help carry this warning to other Americans. Don’t take your freedom for granted.

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Tonight, representing People For The American Way is their chairman, John H. Buchanan. From 1965 until 1981 Mr. Buchanan was a Congressman representing the 6th District of Alabama in the US House of Representatives. My second guest is Dr. D. James Kennedy, senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is president of the Coalition for Religious Liberty and a board member of Concerned Christians for More Responsible Citizenship. Please stay tuned for this important discussion.


Ankerberg: If you have just joined us we are talking about religion and politics. What can a Christian do in terms of getting involved in the political world today? Is it right or is it wrong? And my guests are former Congressman from Alabama, John Buchanan, and Dr. D. James Kennedy, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. And, gentlemen, we are going to start with questions this week from our audience. And our first question is:
Audience: I would like to give you a scenario and have both of you respond to this question. The pro-choice movement in the abortion issue, they say such statements as, “Don’t legislate morality concerning abortion, that it is a woman’s private moral decision to make,” and, “Don’t force your morality on us.” It seems to me the Rowe vs. Wade decision in 1973 established the fact that the government did say that it is moral for a woman to choose abortion. Now the issue I am getting at is this, is it as the pro-choice people say, immoral to legislate morality? If it is immoral to legislate morality then you have introduced morality into the question already and you have made a moral statement. If it’s not, then what’s all the fuss about?
Ankerberg: Who would you like to start us?
Audience: Dr. Buchanan.
Ankerberg: Okay, John.
Buchanan: I think government must deal with many moral questions just as individual citizens must. And abortion is a question in which government has always dealt. When I grew up in Alabama, it had abortion laws that accepted life of mother, rape and incest as bases on which abortions could be performed, but prohibited abortion in other cases. And I think this through the years of our country’s life has been one of the, or for a long time, has been one of the questions with which government has dealt.
Ankerberg: John, are you… I will ask you on two levels. First of all, as a Christian, as a Southern Baptist minister, you still have your ordination, don’t you?
Buchanan: Yes sir.
Ankerberg: Alright, as a Christian, what is your personal view? Is it right or wrong morally?
Buchanan: I think that abortion is morally wrong, but I also think that life is sacred after birth. And I think we need, as we approach it as a matter of public policy, to try to weigh what is right and what is wrong as public policy. For example, the Alabama law I mentioned. Some people believe that life of mother only is the only grounds for abortion. Alabama said for many years that rape and incest were also bases. I do think you can get into discussions as to what conditions might make it something that was still wrong but a possible choice for a moral person.
Ankerberg: As a politician did you vote for or against abortion in any shape or form in Congress?
Buchanan: I was graded down by the Christian Voice Report Card for voting to add rape and incest along with life of mother as a basis upon which abortions could be performed with federal funds. I did that a series of times. I voted also on one occasion to take into consideration very serious health problems on the part of a mother.
Ankerberg: Jim?
Kennedy: The questioner’s first part of his question, I believe, was can you legislate morality? Now, it is often said that you can’t legislate morality, and, of course, this is absurd. The fact of the matter is the only thing you can legislate is morality. If you can’t legislate morality, then pray tell what do you legislate? We have laws against stealing, killing, murder, rape, kidnapping, whatever because it’s immoral to do these things. So the question is obviously you can legislate morality.
Now concerning abortion, it has been the traditional Christian position down through 20 centuries that abortion was the taking of life. In fact, in the early church committing abortion was grounds for complete and final excommunication from the church. And I believe, therefore, that abortion is wrong. And as far as the Roe vs. Wade decision on that permitting it, it reminds me of the fact that the Supreme Court in 1856 passed the Dred Scott decision which is very similar to that. During the Dred Scott decision they said that the black, the negro, was not a person in the constitutional sense of the word and was not protected by the guarantees of the constitution. Now we have the Supreme Court again doing the same thing, this time not with blacks but with the unborn.
As far as the pro-choice is concerned, I was reading just this summer another history of the life of Abraham Lincoln and the debates that he had with Stephen Douglas. Lincoln, of course, was against slavery. Well, we might suppose that Douglas’ position was that he was for slavery, but that’s not true. Douglas was personally opposed to slavery, but he was pro-choice. He believed that the newly-formed additional states coming into the Union should have the choice of whether or not they wanted to be slave or free.
Now, of course, I’m in favor in many cases of people having the right to choice but the thing with slavery and with abortion, which is true, is that in each case there’s a third party who is involved, the unborn child or the slave. I believe that pro-choice is limited. I don’t believe I have the choice to pull out a gun and shoot you and say, “Well, I have the right to that choice.” I don’t think that I have the right to choose to take your wallet. So choice is limited when it comes to injuring a third party and I think that’s what this has done. And I’m sure that Roe vs. Wade will be repealed just like the Dred Scott decision.
Ankerberg: Right along this line there is a lot of heat in politics right now coming from the Catholic point of view where some of the Catholics said that if a man holds personally, concerning abortion, that it’s morally wrong, that when he is in politics he should not change his stance. Do you agree or disagree with that?
Kennedy: Well, as I said, and by the way the People For The American Way in one of their statements say, that morality should certainly govern public policy. If we don’t do that, then we are violating our own consciences when we vote in Congress. I think, therefore, that if a person believes that something is right or wrong they should vote that conviction when they go to Congress. And if they don’t do that they’re acting hypocritically.
Ankerberg: John.
Buchanan: Well, I think that this is a deeply troubling moral question. When you get to, as a matter of public policy, how a government handles it, it is not exactly the same thing as how an individual person handles it. For example, this is one of a number of things which take human life. War takes human life. We have a question of a death penalty imposed by the state. That is a taking of human life. When a policeman in pursuit of a criminal who has committed a crime takes that criminal’s life, that is taking life although under the law it may be justifiable homicide. Therefore, there are things that are clearly taking life and taking life is clearly wrong.
Nevertheless, when you try to determine what the public policy shall be, shall it be life of mother only? Shall it include rape and incest? Shall it be legitimate to take serious health problems in or not? And a matter of public policy is what government prohibits. I do think you get into some serious governmental questions. That’s what Govenor Cuomo was saying. He wasn’t saying that …. he said his personal conviction was against abortion clearly and that’s where he stood but as a public servant he had to take into account what might be the right and the most just public policy. I think you do if you’re in public office have to take that into account.
Ankerberg: Jim.
Kennedy: I don’t agree with that at all. I think that if any politician today stood up and said, “I am personally opposed to slavery but I think it would be terrible to impose my moral position upon the country. And, John Buchanan, if you want to own a slave, well that is your privilege and I certainly would never impose any legislation upon you that was going to restrict your right of choice to do that.” I think that is absolutely morally abhorrent.
Buchanan: I yield that point. I agree with that. I’m only saying….
Kennedy: Well, the same thing is true, John, when it comes to kids. It’s even worse, because you’re not talking about enslaving a person, as bad as that is, you’re talking about killing them. You’re saying the person has a right to kill somebody else and you’re not going to pass laws that are going to keep them from doing that.
Buchanan: But the same is true of war. The same is true when a policeman has to take a life. The same is true when I take a life when somebody invades my home. And if I take a life the law may say I’m justified if it threatens my own life. I’m only saying that there are conditions like rape and incest, as well as life of mother, that some people would find may provide sufficient reason to make that wrong act, nevertheless one that the law ought not prohibit.
Ankerberg: Jim.
Kennedy: Let me say that I think the idea of rape and incest is a smoke screen. Approximately two percent or less of all abortions, of 1,500,000 abortions performed in this country, involve rape or incest. So we’re talking about over 1,450,000 babies who are being aborted and it has nothing to do with saving the life of the mother, rape or incest. So this is a smoke screen that is being used to justify mass murder of millions, over 15 million babies in this country. I think this is the greatest moral issue of our time and I believe that Christians need to stand, just as Lincoln stood against slavery, unequivocally against this kind of slaughter. As far as it being the same thing as capital punishment is concerned, it’s exactly the opposite. Capital punishment is taking the life of the guilty. Abortion is taking the life of the innocent! If a person can’t see the difference between those two things, then certainly something is wrong with his moral perception in my opinion!!
Ankerberg: Question.
Audience: Mr. Buchanan and also Mr. Kennedy, you could respond in your capacity as an individual. Mr. Buchanan, I am specifically interested in your response to this question as a representative for People For The American Way. Do you believe that it is impossible to govern the United States of America without the use of the Bible?
Buchanan: Do I believe it is impossible to govern the United States without the use of the Bible?
Audience: Yes sir. Do you believe it is absolutely essential to the government of this country to use the Bible?
Buchanan: I think that’s…
Audience: In your capacity as representative of People For The American Way, I am asking that question.
Buchanan: In my representative as a person in the world, we have so many different interpretations of the Bible that I certainly would not want the government basing its decisions on some interpretation of the Bible. If it did on Stuart’s interpretation of the Bible, it would violate my conscience and then I as a citizen would be done wrong by my government. So, no, I think Christian people comprise the strength and the hope of many places including a substantial part of the strength and the hope of this country.
Kennedy: Well, that’s quite a different opinion than was held by the founders of this country. James Madison who wrote the Constitution said, “It would be impossible to govern the nation without God and the Bible.” George Washington said, “It would be impossible to govern without God and the Ten Commandments.” Interestingly, the very first act that was performed by the first President of this country after taking his oath of office, he bent over and kissed the Bible and then led the entire Senate and House, which had voted to do this themselves, to church to have a two hour worship service. Washington later said that we would be very foolish to suppose we could maintain the moral structures of this country if we did away with the religious foundations which the Supreme Court said came out of the Bible, that this was a religious people and a Christian nation. So I think that what we’re seeing today, the real problem is that this effort, the effort by the People For The American Way is to destroy the Christian religious foundations upon which this nation was built and substitute for them a secularist kind of country which I think will be a devastating deviation from what made America great.
Ankerberg: Let me take John Buchanan’s side here for a moment and bring up one of the objections. They would say, “But, boy, it’s starting to sound awfully dangerous. You Christians have 60 million born-again Christians. That’s a tremendous voting block.
Kennedy: Well, certainly America has always provided through our Constitution freedom for other people. I think that since the establishment of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in this country more religious freedom has been provided for more people than any other nation in the world. And the people who will protest the loudest against the fact that this nation was established upon religious and Christian foundations, it’s very interesting that when these people are in power they do not allow the same type of freedom. You take the secularists and the ungodly people, the athiests. Look at what happens when they’re in power. Look what they do in the Soviet Union, what they do in Bulgaria, what they do in China to religious people. They persecute them unmercifully. It’s terrible. Or even other religious groups which we have in this country such as the Jews which will rise up against the idea that there was any Christian foundings for this country. Yet in Israel it is against the law to evangelize an Israeli in that country. You go to prison for doing that. Or, you take Hindus. In many states in India it is against the law to convert a Hindu to Christianity. The same is true in Muslim countries. It’s against the law to evangelize an Egyptian in Egypt. It is against the law in Saudi Arabia to even worship any other god than Allah. And yet all of these people will rise up and say, “Oh, you can’t say that this is a Christian nation.” Yet this Christian nation, founded through its Constitution and its Bill of Rights, has provided liberty for all of these people to worship anyone that they want to worship, to not worship at all, to go out on the street and proselytize, evangelize, to get on the radio, to get on television. Madalyn Murray O’Hair can get on national television and can promote her atheistic views. People can promote secularistic views. We have provided freedom. I believe that secular humanism, which is the alternative that is really being pushed in our country today, is a very intolerant religion. And if it gains its way, you will find a suppression of all other expressions of religion in our country.
Ankerberg: Let me ask you the hardest question. Go the opposite way. What shouldn’t Christians do with that kind of power? Let’s say that they do have the majority in voting power. What shouldn’t they do? Is there anything in that direction?
Kennedy: What should they not do?
Ankerberg: Right.
Kennedy: They should not in any way try to impose, by legislation, the Christian religion upon other people. They should not in any way try to impede other people from practicing their religion, from the free exercise of it. They should not establish a state church. They should allow people to express their views in the free marketplace of ideas. I believe that biblical Christianity is quite capable of defending itself freely. It’s interesting that all of these other people, they want to repress the full expression of religious ideas. They want to repress the expression of the scientific views that defend creation. They want to have only one view, even though in the Scopes trial they said it would be utter bigotry to have only one view. But now they want to repress it. They suppress all sorts of Christian views, all other religious views in the textbooks in our public schools today. I am for freedom. I’m for allowing people to express their views and let people make up their mind. This is what the People For The American Way and secularists and humanists in our country, I believe, would get rid of if they had to power to do it.
Ankerberg: John, when you were in Congress you talked about the fact of voting for ERA, and yet on Crossfire when I saw you with Buchanan, your cousin there, and with Falwell, you said that one of the things that you thought that the far right was against was rights for women. I do not hear that. I think that people are against the Equal Rights Amendment for a variety of reasons. Do you understand why and that you can differentiate the fact of being against a bad bill and for women’s rights?
Buchanan: Well, we would disagree as to the nature of the bill and the amendment. Yes, of course, a person could oppose a particular thing like the Equal Rights Amendment and still be for women’s rights. I’m sure many people who oppose ERA are in good conscience for women’s rights and believe themselves to be. I think that there has been a series of measures, of which that is one. I happen to believe that one is kind of important and I don’t believe that God discriminated in giving His gifts out by sex. I think it’s kind of important for everyone for us to be fully protected and everyone to have full opportunity in this society. But to answer your basic question, yes, you could take a position which you oppose the Equal Rights Amendment without in your heart or in your intention being against women’s rights. Of course, yes.
Ankerberg: Jim, why do you think that the Christians, so-called, out there have denied ERA, but are saying that they are for women’s rights? What’s the difference, why do they turn down the ERA Amendment?
Kennedy: I think that one of the basic reasons behind that in talking to people, including many women who are opposed to it, is because they believe that ultimately it would be destructive to the family and that many of the things which ERA seeks, which are good and which I would support, have already been established by legislation in our country. Some of the things which have not been done involve homosexual rights, the right of two homosexual men or two homosexual women to adopt children, to be married, and various other things like that, employment, so that homosexual rights is a big issue. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have told me that that, they feel, was the one thing that people didn’t have in sexual rights that they wanted. I think people felt that that would be inimical to the basic structure of the family in America and that’s one reason people voted against it.
Ankerberg: Alright, it would also be the fact that according to some of the legal implications of the states that did pass ERA before it went out, it showed that those lawyers for the ERA and the NOW organization and so on, they went and they showed that it would be mandatory by the Constitution then for a woman to have an abortion. They showed that it would be mandatory for women to be conscripted into the army and they would have to serve in combat because… and let’s give a couple more. It would be unfair in insurance. Women would have to pay $700 million more than they’re paying right now because they would be equal in automobile insurance where actually it would be unfair to the women because they’re not that much of a risk.
Kennedy: Now it’s interesting that many….
Buchanan: I disagree with that interpretation. I just want to get it on the record.
Kennedy: Many people in the ERA movement would deny that, what you say, just as John just did. He disagrees, says that would not be true, and I heard many ERA proponents make those statements. And yet the fact is that when the courts begin to decide what an amendment to the Constitution means, what they have to consider is legislative intent. Now, Senator Sam Erwin, who is a constitutional expert, presented about 12 or 15 amendments to the ERA amendment when it was before the Senate.
Ankerberg: To clarify every one of those things.
Kennedy: To clarify every one of those things that you said. Every one of them was voted down by the Senate. He said such things as “Nothing in this amendment is to imply that women will be conscripted into the military.” Defeated by the Senate. “Nothing in this amendment shall be construed to mean that women will be placed in combat units during time of military action.” Defeated by the US Senate. “Nothing in this amendment will be construed to mean that there shall not be separate toilet facilities for men and women.” Defeated by the US Senate. Now when the courts begin to consider the cases that are going to come up by the thousands on this, they’re going to have to consider the legislative intent of the Senate which was absolutely made clear by the vote of the Senate on all of these issues and I think that it would have unleashed an incredible amount of court action in this country that would keep our courts bogged down for the next century.
Ankerberg: Yale Law School said the same thing in their brief. You have other Congressmen that wrote that up and said on every one of those things that you just mentioned exactly the same thing. Therefore, Christians looking at this said, “We don’t want that.”
Buchanan: Some Christians did.
Ankerberg: That’s correct. I would say that seems to be pretty good reasons, but for those people that then come back and say, “Christians are completely hostile to women’s rights,” I don’t follow where they’re coming, do you?
Buchanan: I think that one thing you keep doing, John, you talk about Christians as if it’s one monolithic group. Many Christians supported the Equal Rights Amendment who did not agree with the interpretation just given, didn’t believe that’s what it would do but did believe it was necessary to provide equal rights for women and girls in the United States. Many sincere Christians were on that side of the issue just as many sincere Christians were on the other side. I don’t think either position made them less Christian.
Ankerberg: Give me a wrap-up then of what do you think Christians, what should be their behavior concerning politics? Should we be involved? Is it right? Is it wrong?
Buchanan: Absolutely. Unlike Paul Weyrich who doesn’t want everybody involved, I want Christians involved. I want conservative Christians involved. I want Christian of every persuasion involved. I want the American people involved in the exercise or self-government in which they are the supreme authority. Yes sir, I want Christians involved in government.
Kennedy: Well, all I would say is that all of the ads and all of the literature put out by the People For The American Way, it seems to me, inveigh completely against the statement that he just made. The commercials that we have seen here on the program show that they are saying, “Do you want these voices heard in the councils of government?” The obvious answer is “No.” We must send in our money right now to the People For The American Way to do something to keep these voices from being heard, to keep these people from influencing our government so that we can go on having the Norman Lears and the liberals, and the secularists, and the humanists being the only ones that can influence our government. It seems to me that it’s not the fact that they want an equal balance. They want to silence one group so that they can have a monopoly of the time and have only their expression heard in the public sphere of America.
Ankerberg: Gentlemen, I thank you for being our guests and for taking all of the hard questions. I think you’ve both done a wonderful job. Thank you for being with us.

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