Some of us recall a time when our country held to the dividing line between church and state. We managed to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."
Not any more. The lines have become so blurred that those who want to legislate their religious beliefs have succeeded in moving the pulpit onto Capitol Hill.
When the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority of 1979 morphed into the religious right in the 1980s and most recently into the Tea Party, issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research and physician-assisted suicide became campaign fodder.
Today, candidates are arm-twisted into taking the most politically advantageous stance — often in opposition to their personal opinions. The result? Private moral issues are crowding out the larger public issues of human rights, social justice, economic fairness and foreign relations in campaign rhetoric and political posturing.
The trouble comes when we attempt to turn a particular religion's "sin" into a crime.
From the mid-19th century to 1964, Catholics were solidly Democratic, sometimes at the 80-90 percent level. They formed a core part of the New Deal coalition, with labor unions and the working class — all of which promoted liberal domestic policies during the Cold War.
But faith-based morality can override logic, as evidenced when many Catholics switched from Democratic to Republican, not because they were aligned with that party's social or economic policies, but because of the church's dictates regarding abortion.
In so doing, these new Republicans managed to bite the hand that fed them. Their valuable social and economic programs were lost or watered down and low minimum wages marginalized the working class.
In a 2011 Pew forum, only 48 percent of Catholics identified themselves as Democrats.
If we fail to remove private religious beliefs from the political arena and return them to the churches where they belong, we run the risk of becoming a police state.
Evidence of this is already occurring: Womens' reproductive rights have been trampled through the enactment of restrictive legislation in nine states and the introduction of such legislation in 23 states.
Stem-cell research has been hobbled through unnecessary regulation. Planned Parenthood has suffered huge cuts in funding. The majority of states still refuse to legalize same-sex marriage and physicians are reluctant to prescribe medication to bring about peaceful deaths for the terminally ill.
President John F. Kennedy took a strong position favoring separation of church and state. He was adamant that his Catholicism would not leech its way into government policies. President Jimmy Carter did not allow his Christian faith to dictate his political policies, much to the dismay of the evangelicals who supported his election.
President Barack Obama is dedicated to this same ethic, but unfortunately the Republican-dominated Congress seems determined to bow to the dictates of the most vocal and well-heeled of religious groups.
One wonders what will be the next "sin" to make it onto the crime list: adultery, extramarital sex, gambling, dancing, card playing or caffeine and alcohol consumption? I guess it depends upon which religious group can afford to buy the most politicians.
Jean-Marie Welch of Lexington is a retired Fayette school teacher.