Religion and politics inseparable

For many, a leader’s faith is an important measure of his or her values, character and integrity.

President George W. Bush’s unabashed faith has intensified public debate over the proper relationship between religion and politics. Editorial pieces in this paper, letters to the editor and public commentators commonly and angrily expound: Religion and politics should have nothing to do with each other. Moreover, the common perception is that a strict separation between church and state is a legal mandate established by the Constitution. Both conclusions are unsupportable and should be abandoned.

An absolute separation of religion and politics is impossible. Telling Bush to leave his faith out of politics is like telling an environmentalist to leave Mother Earth out of a discussion on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The idea that a neat separation is even possible stems from a misunderstanding of what religion is to those who take it seriously.

True religion affects the way individuals understand who they are, how they interact within their communities, and all normative judgments. How, then, can a religious decision-maker evaluate policy without the lens through which he or she views the world? When individuals ask religion be completely left out of politics, the seek to make a person’s religion void of meaning. We elect public officials precisely for their values, ideology and perceptions of the proper role of government in our lives. Policy makers’ moral judgments are not and have never been formed in a secular vacuum.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s nonsensical stance on abortion offers a real-life illustration of how incoherent the strict separation argument has become. In the presidential debates, Kerry was careful to convey his personal disfavor of abortion, simultaneously maintaining that the principle of separation between church and state somehow prevents him from “imposing” his moral beliefs upon others.

Kerry should realize that every piece of legislation written “imposes” some kind of normative and moral judgment on the electorate; that is precisely what we elect them to do. Undoubtedly, if Kerry is elected he will be “imposing” his normative tax positions on the richest 2 percent of the United States.

Taken to its logical conclusion, Kerry’s stance would prevent any law motivated in any part by any policy actor’s faith. Kerry sees fit to carve out an untenable exception for policy motivated by religious conviction and joins much of his liberal base that hopes to see the United States gradually secularized and religion stricken from the public square.

The Constitution in no way requires a strict separation between church and state. The text of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This small sentence reveals a number of facts. First, the framers meant to prohibit only a federal establishment of religion. For better or worse, the Founding Fathers believed states should be left to craft their own First Amendment or establish their own state religions. Most important though, is the framers’ use of “establishment,” much stronger than the notion of entanglement or endorsement the Court has grafted into the text.

Contrary to public perception, the First Amendment was meant to proscribe only the federal formation of an ecclesiastical authority, the national institution of denominational creeds and/or the payment of federal taxes to a particular denomination. The notion that it could prohibit hanging the Ten Commandments in a state courtroom would’ve been inconceivable to the framers.

Demonstrative of this is the fact that three days after the final agreement on the language of the Bill of Rights, Congress authorized public funding of congressional chaplains. In fact, almost all the Founding Fathers viewed religion as the crucial foundation of free governments, maintaining religion and morality ought to be promoted by government.

Due to a vehemently anti-Christian American Civil Liberties Union, revisionist history and perverted judicial decisions such as Lemon v. Kurtzman, the clause has been used to confuse the public as to the law’s legitimate meaning and proper relationship between church and state.

As the election grows closer, strict separation arguments dominate liberal criticism of Bush. This line of argumentation must be abandoned. It is an attempt to give ideological disagreement more moral weight than the argument otherwise deserves. Instead of merely disagreeing with the faith of Bush, liberals (knowing full well this argument carries little weight in the United States) seek the weight of the law to demonize Bush.

The hard truth for liberals is religion and politics will remain inseparable as long as the populace is religious. For a majority of people, a leader’s faith is an important measure of his values, character and integrity. During the final days before the election we need meaningful debate on controversial policy questions, not groundless arguments without basis

Bryan Freeman welcomes comments at [email protected]