The confusion of attempted simplicity

Privacy, tolerance, and the “wall of separation” were supposed to keep the government out of our private affairs, and especially out of our churches and bedrooms. Things haven’t worked out quite so smoothly, or at least that’s most likely the view of the Christian mother who is appealing a judge’s decision that prohibits her from teaching her daughter that homosexuality is wrong.

A woman living in a lesbian relationship adopted an infant daughter. Several years later she converted to Christianity, decided the relationship was wrong, and left it. Her former lover — who had no legal relationship with the woman or her adopted daughter — sued for joint custody and got it, with the added requirement that the mother had to “make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic.”

One could drawn a variety of conclusions from these events. It’s clear, though, that they dramatize the absurdity of the claim that government should take no position on “difficult” social issues like religion and sexuality. Those things are fundamental to how people live. Modern government takes comprehensive responsibility for how people live. So how can government be neutral?

Even if the answer is for government to scale back its involvement in individual welfare, that will be possible only if there are non-governmental institutions (like the family and ordinary standards of moral responsibility) that make it possible for people to cooperate and rely on each other in solving their own problems. And government will have to have some sort of policy toward those institutions and the standards by which they exist. Without some view of such things cases like this one can’t be dealt with at all. The pretense of neutrality is simply taking sides by indirection.