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Christopher Dodson, Published June 01 2013

Letter: Laws rely on reason and science

In his recent letter in The Forum, John Hougen makes the strange and ultimately contradictory claim that abortion legislation infringes upon religious freedom by imposing “Catholic and other church dogma” on the state’s residents.

There is a difference between matters that are solely doctrinal and matters that are knowable by reason. A law requiring every North Dakotan to be baptized in the name of the Trinity would derive solely from religious doctrine and, therefore, would be inappropriate. There are some laws, however, that we know by reason are right, even if there may exist an additional religious basis for the law or even if the person proposing the law may be motivated by religious faith. For example, the government is not precluded from enacting laws against theft, even though the Bible says, “Thou shall not steal.”

Opposition to abortion does not rest solely on religious dogma. Instead, it rests on reason and science, which is why some atheists and agnostics oppose abortion. The existence of religiously motivated advocates does not change this fact.

In this respect, promoting pro-life laws is no different than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for civil rights, the work of slavery abolitionists, or even the recent opposition of Lutheran pastors to laws allowing firearms in churches. The positions may be motivated by religious belief, but the arguments appeal to what is knowable by all persons of good will.

The Catholic Church supports pro-life legislation for the same reason it supports programs that help the poor and opposes human trafficking and the death penalty – to name just a few examples. The positions stem from what is knowable about the human person and is motivated by the call to love our neighbor.

This is precisely what our nation’s founders, respectful of both religious freedom and reason, envisioned.


Dodson, Jamestown, N.D., is executive director/general counsel, North Dakota Catholic Conference.