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Tenth place (tie) — Grad student essay contest: Jonathan Ortiz

The bible as a scapegoat

FFRF awarded Jonathan $300.

Jonathan Ortiz

By Jonathan Ortiz

In U.S. politics, the Christian bible commands an astounding amount of respect from voters and politicians. While some forms of government support of Christianity have successfully been advocated against or ruled unconstitutional, it is disturbing how much power politicians still wield in political discourse and public policy when armed with the bible.

Romans 13:1 is one such verse that is used by politicians today to justify and guide bad public policy. It reads that “everyone [is] subject to the governing authorities” as “the authorities that exist have been established by God.” In context, Paul the Apostle does not call for subservient obedience to government and its public officials under all circumstances, but rather refers to the view that human governance is transcended by God’s divine governance and is therefore included as a part of the divine order. This nuance, as with all other widely used bible verses, is not understood by most, and so its superficial interpretation is used to justify restriction of the most basic values of freedom and opportunity upon which our republic was founded.

In June 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13:1 as justification for the Trump administration’s harsh policy stance on immigration, separating children from their parents and holding them in facilities where living conditions are tantamount to those that exist within concentration camps. Sessions stated that people should “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” Instead of addressing serious concerns about the inhumane conditions under which these migrants and their children are being held, he derailed that discussion entirely by alluding to the bible as reason why these conditions are, in fact, just: In short, the U.S. government has laws against persons illegally entering the country, and because the government and its laws are ordained by God and these migrants are entering illegally, they deserve the consequences. What is interesting is that Romans 13:1 is not cited when evangelical zealots illegally bring religion into our classrooms or into our public spaces, or when they attempt to restrict a woman’s constitutional right to make use of family-planning services.

Sessions further stated that “orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful” — except that these policies do not protect those individuals. In late June, Francisco Erwin Galicia, an 18-year-old Dallas-born U.S. citizen, was unlawfully detained for more than three weeks by border officials when he could not present a passport to officials while traveling within the United States. He reportedly lost 26 pounds during his detention time, was not allowed to shower, and even considered self-deporting to escape the conditions. It is clear from this case and others like it that this administration’s stance on immigration is not about enforcing laws or maintaining order, but rather about perpetuating white privilege and systemic racism.

Until politicians and voters quit giving such inordinate deference to religion, Sessions and others will continue to use the bible to restrict liberties and repress the American people into submission. It is, after all, much easier to garner public support with a bible verse than it is with a statement declaring your bigotry and goal to force said bigotry onto all Americans.

Romans 13:1 is just one example of the way in which the bible continues to harm people today, especially those people whose civil liberties are already compromised. We must begin to call out appeals to the bible for what they really are: cowardly excuses. As then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, it is “very biblical to enforce the law,” especially when those laws attempt to mainstream the racist, regressive and atavistic worldviews of those devoid of compassion or empathy.

Jonathan, 21, is from Gainesville, Fla., and attends the University of Florida, where he is studying economics and working toward a master’s degree. He was born and raised in Germany. He would like a job in the public sector.