U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups recently handed down a decision that a provision in Utah law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. Freedom of religion, you say? What could this possibly have to do with freedom of religion? Well, it seems that this ruling came as a result of a lawsuit by the Brown family who are polygamists. They are stars of a TLC reality TV show called “Sister Wives.” It is a show about a real polygamist family of fundamentalist Mormons who share their life with viewers through the show. The problem is, polygamy is illegal in Utah.
The state of Utah originally instituted their cohabitation laws in 1890 because they wanted statehood and the other states would not allow them into the union unless they abandoned their official acceptance of polygamy. Until then, the Mormon church fully accepted the practice (and it is still, actually, a part of their scriptures). In Utah, they don’t issue multiple marriage licenses, so polygamous families have one officially married couple and the rest of the wives simply cohabit with the man. The implementation of cohabitation laws was the way the state of Utah tried to stamp out polygamy.
It seems that the Brown family filed their lawsuit in July 2011. They believed their constitutional rights were being infringed. After filing the suit, they fled Utah because they were afraid of prosecution. They lived in Las Vegas until this ruling came down which removed the threat of arrest. The next step, of course, is to have polygamy itself accepted in law as legal marriage.
So now we see the next maneuver in the evolution of the very basis for understanding what is legal in America. If polygamous behavior is a human right, then the banning of it in law must be unconstitutional. In other words, by simply changing the definition of a word, the legality of previously illegal activities can become legal.
So, what’s next? If polygamous behavior is a human right and a constitutional right, then any objection to it must be wrong, right? Or so the progression goes. In fact, this very thing is already playing out regarding the issue of homosexual marriage.
These days, it seems that everyone is concerned that their rights not be infringed, and people are claiming “rights” in all kinds of ways. Increasingly, homosexual marriage is being deemed legal by various courts (in contradiction to the way this has been viewed for the entire previous history of the nation) simply by changing the definition of the word marriage.
There is a problem, though. Accepting immoral behavior based on changing the definition of words changes not only specific laws, but actually alters the very philosophical (worldview) basis upon which the concept of human rights, and American constitutional rights, was established. And if you change the philosophical basis, it changes the way you must evaluate all laws which deal with the word with the changed definition. What used to be illegal and wrong automatically becomes legal and right without ever changing any laws. Old laws are just declared invalid by judges. Change the definition of marriage and all of sudden non-marriage behavior comes under the protection of marriage laws.
Another example relates to freedom of speech and religion. These ideas used to have very specific meanings based on the philosophical reasoning of the founders. But with a simple arbitrary change in the definition of a few words, freedom of speech is changed to mean certain speech is okay and other not okay, and freedom of religion comes to mean certain religious expression is okay and not others.
Those who are advocating for this change in the philosophical foundation of our national culture make the claim that the religious concepts of the founders no longer fit a nation which is now religiously pluralistic. They believe we need a way of implementing laws which has no religious foundation at all. The problem is, there is no such thing. What they tout as a secular foundation for law is actually just that of a different religious faith. It is simply the replacement of one set of religious beliefs and values with another.
As for the polygamists, they say current law tramples on their right to marry who they want. What they don’t realize is that by changing what currently exists, they are imposing their desires on others in a way that tramples their rights.
In this case, children have a human right to be raised in a stable home which reflects the way reality is actually structured. When God created humanity, he did it an a particular way. That way was designed with marriage being the union of one man and one woman for life. It is the way that a man and a woman can have the most fulfillment in their own lives and it is the arrangement which is most advantageous for the raising of children.
There is no doubt that there are bad heterosexual marriages where spouses and/or children are abused. But this is not a problem with the institution, it is a problem of individuals within the institution living life in opposition to God’s leading. But when you make the leap and redefine the nature of marriage to mean something that is outside of God’s plan (whether you are talking about cohabitation, homosexual marriage, adultery, divorce, or polygamous marriage), problems begin shooting off the charts – everything from child and partner abuse, to pornography, to poverty, to substance abuse, to poor performance in school, to gender identification problems, and the list goes on and on. All of this happens with the simple redefinition of a word. It happens because these alternative arrangements literally operate against the actual way God structured reality to exist.
Ultimately, the issue is not about human rights or constitutional rights. It is about right and wrong. There is a way reality is actually structured and it is based on the way God did it. And we can know what that is because God revealed it to us in Scripture.
When it comes to operating in human culture, the concepts of human rights and constitutional rights are important. They provide the framework for establishing right morality in the world and for interacting with others in society in a free and orderly manner.
But human rights and constitutional rights, themselves, have to be based on something. Either the basis is the actual structure of reality (that which is revealed in the Bible) or something else. The truth is, human beings are sinners who truly deserve eternal separation from God. In spite of that, God loves us with a depth of love that moved him to come to earth as a human person and give himself as a sacrifice for the purpose of taking care of our sin problem. He did this not because we have a right to it, but because he loves us and, based on that love, determined to show us mercy. As such, rather than demanding rights from him, we ought to be so grateful for his love and grace toward us that we humbly and willingly give our lives – every part of our lives – to him. That giving of our lives should be expressed by giving him the one thing he wants out of us – our loving devotion back to him.
Human rights and constitutional rights in America ultimately emerged out of the very character of God himself. Unfortunately, in our day, the definitions of these concepts are being perverted in ways which create behavior in society which is, itself, perverted.
The only cure for this is to know God. As Christians, we should recommit ourselves to spread this cure to all we know. It is only as people know Christ that they will even understand what we mean when we share the true meaning of human rights and constitutional rights.
© 2014 Freddy Davis