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COLUMN: We need more separation of church and state



Officials of Lawrence County, Indiana, met last week and rescinded the county's needle exchange program.

Before he voted to cancel the program, Rodney Fish, the county’s commissioner, cited a Bible verse to support his moral opposition to needle exchanges. 

We cannot continue to elect and support government workers who use their own personal religious practices in their day-to-day jobs. It puts lives at risk and continues to perpetuate the notion that America is a Christian nation, excluding all others who follow other religions or no religion at all. 

Not only does this decision further ostracize the community of opiate addicts, but it also causes concern for public health. 

Needle exchange programs offer clean needles to intravenous drug users in exchange for potentially dirty ones. By providing incentive to use clean needles, it reduces the risk of diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV.  

The Centers for Disease Control states that needle exchange programs are an “effective component” of a strategy to prevent HIV among people who inject drugs. Yet, an Indiana official chooses to ignore hard facts and data in favor of his faith-based morals.

This summer House Bill 1438 went into effect, granting counties and municipalities the power to approve operation of needle exchange programs. 

Although counties can continue or terminate their programs, the bill requires that the state health commissioner must receive written notice if a program is renewed, expired or terminated. 

Hopefully for public safety, this cancellation will be halted or at least shamed. It creates undue risk in an Indiana community for no logical reason.

This is not the first time that religion in government work has caused problems. 

In 2015, Kim Davis, clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, refused a marriage certificate to a same-sex couple, even though the Supreme Court ruled earlier that year that same-sex marriage is legal. 

Citing her own religious beliefs, Davis refused to give the couple a marriage license, impeding the efficiency of the clerk’s office and humiliating the couple she refused. 

The United States has no religion. A founding principle of the country is religious freedom. Yet hundreds of years later, public health crises are being ignored in favor of the Bible. 

We cannot have religion in our government. As a sovereign entity that claims no faith, the law has no place for personal religious views. 

It does not work. In Lawrence County, it puts public health at the discretion of a man interpreting a holy book not everyone believes in.  

We cannot legislate based on religion if not everyone shares one – and they don’t. 

anneande@indiana.edu

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