A 'Welcome' Change of Faith

President Barack Obama’s executive order lifting restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research is a welcome move. Here’s hoping today’s action represents a new day in the relationship between the federal government and science.

I’m optimistic that eight years of sectarian meddling in medical research is coming to an end. We never should have had this fight in the first place. Public policy should be based on science, not the narrow prescriptions of any denomination’s theology.

During the era of President George W. Bush, we saw constant efforts to justify government policy on religious grounds. Religious leaders asserted that certain avenues of medical and scientific research should not be pursued because they offended some group’s interpretation of the Bible or church tradition.

Such arguments might have been persuasive in 13th Century Spain. Today they are an anachronism. Churches are free to believe what they want about medicine, science and research. They are not free to hold government policy hostage to their own narrow interpretation of holy books or decrees.

The United States is growing more religiously diverse every say. A recent survey by Trinity College found that the nation is more pluralistic than ever. Non-denominational forms of Christianity are on the rise, and a growing number of citizens say they hold no religious views at all.

We should celebrate the wide variety of perspectives about faith in America. It shows that our Founders got it right when they severed the tie between church and state. The distance between religion and government has given us all the right to make our own decisions about these intimate matters. One sees the result: a vibrant religious and philosophical life that cuts across the culture.

Yet there is more work to be done. Our religious diversity rests on the platform of secular government, a government that is officially neutral on matters of theology. Obama took an important step today to honor the tradition by reminding us all that no religious group should have veto power over what goes on in our research laboratories, classrooms and operating rooms.

It’s a welcome affirmation of the value of the secular state and the religious liberty it gives us. One hopes it won’t be the last from this administration.