The 2012 Republican Platform on the Threat to Faith-Related Institutions states that the “war on religion” has been attempting to “…compel faith-related institutions, as well as believing individuals, to contravene their deeply held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding health services, traditional marriage, or abortion.” It goes on to reference the “forcible secularization” of various religiously affiliated organizations, such as hospitals and colleges.
Compare this with the 2012 Democratic Platform on the Importance of Faith-Based Organizations, where they state the importance of, “…constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests.” It goes on to say that there should be no conflict between respecting the Constitution and supporting faith-based institutions.
Looking at the two platforms a stark contrast is apparent, and the fact that religion was included in both parties’ platforms goes to show that religion and faith are both something that is considered important to American citizens. However, the way that religion is handled in the United States is something that has caused controversy, especially at the political level. What do conservatives mean by “war on religion”? What do liberals mean when they refer to a partnership that is “constitutionally sound”?
The first amendment in the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This is what some like to call the bedrock of the United States. A country where individuals are free to worship whatever God they please.
Both parties support the right to exercise a religion of an individual’s choosing, however, the Republican Platform in 2012 also supported the display of the Ten Commandments “…as a reflection of our history and of our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage…” A study by the Pew Research Center shows that those who lean right can be mostly be grouped in the Evangelical category, so the fact the Republican Platform supported the display of the Ten Commandments is not surprising considering that most of their supporters consider themselves Christians. What’s important to consider is whether or not displaying the Ten Commandments in a public sphere would be infringing on the First Amendment, and whether any other religious text or reference from any other religion would be treated the same way.
Citing the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States is a popular argument that is used by those who support the idea of having a “Christian” nation. Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father that is often referred to when it comes to personal liberties and small government, was a Deist and he held ideas that went against the “traditional” Christian practices, not only during his time but even today. One of his greatest achievements was enacting the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which is considered the precursor to the First Amendment in the Constitution. Jefferson believed that individuals should be free to choose what religion they preferred, and in doing so, believed that government and religion should not mix.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a philosopher who came to the United States from France and studied American culture and politics in 1831, noticed something that stood out from the rest of the world, or at the very least, Europe. Tocqueville observed that, “religion was a powerful force in American life, an established and irresistible fact which no one undertakes either to attack or defend.” This might be different today, considering that millennials have been found to be less religious than their elders. However, the effect that religion has in the United States is something that can be seen even still today.
The DNC leaks are a sure sign of this. The emails released concerning using religion against a particular candidate (many believe to be Sanders, while Mr. Marshall, the writer of the email, claims it is not) shows just how much religion and politics are intertwined today. The email reads, “It might make no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God.” The email goes on to mention that the nameless individual has a Jewish heritage and that Mr. Marshall’s “Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
So what does this say about democracy today? What does this say about political parties in the United States? Here we have the Democratic Party, a party that prides itself on tolerance and inclusion, using a candidate’s own religion, or lack of one, against them. Not only is this hypocritical on a Constitutional standpoint, it’s even more hypocritical when looking at how Democrats and Republicans differ on their opinions concerning religious freedom. According to the 2012 Democratic Platform on Universal Values, individuals should be able to worship as they please, so why should it matter if a political candidate holds a different religion than what American Christians deem appropriate?
If people were really serious about religious freedom, the issue of religion wouldn’t even be relevant when discussing politics. What’s happened is that the concept of religious freedom has been widely interpreted by American Christians as stemming from the nation’s earliest colonizers’ right to practice Christianity freely, a practice that groups like the Puritans were persecuted for in Europe. This close-minded misinterpretation is arguably inaccurate and has been used to discredit the practice of other faiths in the US, especially with laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been recently used as a way to refuse services to those in the gay community, based on the individual’s religion. Islamophobia is another example of this, and it has become a major issue in the United States since the 9/11 attacks.
One’s religious views are personal and private, and are not to be mixed with politics. Whether or not religion and politics will change in America is hard to say, but using a candidate’s religion against him or her is something that is completely unconstitutional. Along with this, promoting one religion over another is dangerous and not fair to the other religions that are present in the United States. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are guilty of using religion as a way to sway their voters, and I think it’s time that we leave religion out of politics entirely.
New York Times:
Virginia Historical Society: