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When I was in grade school, every morning we started with the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer, and the reading of a Psalm.

This was a time when, to define how America was different from the “godless” Soviet Union, “In God We Trust” was added to our money and “under God” was added to the Pledge.

We were, it was made clear, a Christian nation. Most stores were closed on Sunday, and had to be. Our presidents were always church-going Protestants.

All of this despite the fact that I lived in a heavily Jewish neighborhood in a diverse urban area. When helping a junior high librarian put up a Christmas tree, I asked about a Menorah, she asked “Heavens, why?”

At the same time most Blacks in the south went to segregated schools, lynching’s were not uncommon, sex between persons of different races was illegal, not to mention between people of the same gender.

Well, we’re no longer in our grandparents’ America. Even in southern Vermont we are multi-cultural and pluralistic. In our town, Jews have long been part of our community life. We have Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists. And there are atheists and agnostics and pagans and so on.

The evolving pluralism of our nation from its earliest days as English colonies has been a defining characteristic of our nation.

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Why, then, do some pretend this is still a Christian nation? Why are the foes of abortion working so hard to impose on our nation a standard that only a minority of Americans support? In today’s America, church-going Christians are now a minority, and many, particularly young people, do not identify themselves with any organized religion.

But even to say that those who belong to faith communities are uniformly “pro-life” is untrue.

There is another take on what is ethical. In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, we support the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.” We respect the right and obligation of individuals to make personal health, relationship and reproduction decisions that meet their needs. These are standards that were recognized in Roe and in other legal decisions over the past 50 years. Individuals have the right to choose who they love, how they define their sexual identity, and whether to reproduce, or not.

The Declaration of Independence doesn’t say “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—except when a religious minority is offended.”

If all signs are right, we’re about to go back 50 years in our laws concerning women, women’s health, and reproductive rights. Yes, some people firmly believe that abortion is wrong—and that’s fine for them—but polls suggest only 20-30 percent of people want Roe to be overturned.

Returning to states’ rights in determining access to abortion is a slippery slope. Is contraception next? Gay marriage? Marriage between people of different races? Will someone decide Brown v. Topeka Board of Education was judicial activism?

Everyone who is a member of a faith community should be concerned about the erosion of individual choice. If we return to an America that adheres to the values of a religious minority, we have no idea where it will stop.

Charles R. Putney is a long-time member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington.


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