By Justin Lalputan, Staff Writer

One of the principles that America is founded on is freedom of religion. People are free to believe in whatever they want. In addition, we also have a separation of church and state, but in reality, I think that’s a joke. We have raging debates about things like gay rights, abortion and stem cell research because of religious preferences; if we had a true separation of church and state, topics like these wouldn’t be a debate at all.

I was reading the news online when I noticed an article by CNN philosopher Sam Harris entitled “Why we should ditch religion.” I feel that he is dead-on with his article. Harris essentially feels the same way that I do. He says that it’s ridiculous for people to do things (in political office) because of what God wants or doesn’t want, which is completely true. I feel that religion shouldn’t play a part in any decisions that a person makes while in political office. Instead, morality should play a larger role. Then, however, the debate arises whether or not morality is possible without religion.

In a religion class that I took in the fall, we had a discussion about whether or not it was possible to have a sense of morality and justice without religion. I came to the conclusion that it was entirely possible. For example, when a pedophile molests a young girl, regardless of the religion that a person follows, that’s wrong. This is not the same thing as gay marriage, which honestly, many people wouldn’t view as wrong if religion didn’t tell them otherwise. I think that if someone was an atheist, or didn’t associate him or herself with any specific religion, he or she would make great decisions in office, because he or she wouldn’t feel that it is necessary have to cater to what any specific religion dictates.

That isn’t to say that I dislike leaders who have strong religious foundations. While it is true that religion is not required for morality, often times a strong religious foundation can endow strong moral values within individuals, and we all know that some of our politicians could use some of those values in their lives.

There are a lot of issues in today’s society that aren’t heavily influenced by religion. The problems of poverty, environmental pollution and medical illnesses are all issues that plague our world, and they are all issues that have almost nothing to do with religion. In cases like these, it doesn’t matter what religion someone follows, they all have different ideas and solutions for these problems. The only time religion causes conflicts is when the issue is something like abortion, where religions have a clear stance on the issue.

In an ideal world, elected leaders would be able to put aside their religions and personal biases to make the best possible decisions for their constituents, but that’s not the case. Everyone who gets elected to political office brings his or her baggage with him or her, and religion is included in that baggage. Still, politicians and their constituents should strive to not push their beliefs on other people. I’m a Muslim, so according to my religion, I should be against gay rights, but I’m completely for them. Why?

My answer is simple: This is America. What I personally think shouldn’t matter when it comes to other people. Yes, I may personally not want gay marriage or abortions, but once I start preaching my beliefs and trying to make them into law, then I’m crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Religion is important, but knowing when to reference it is even more important. We have separation of church and state for a reason, so let’s try to uphold it.