The Church in American Politics
Does "separation of Church and State" actually exist? A look at the immense presence of religion within the political scene of the United States government.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution establishes the separation of Church and State. At the forefront of all of the Constitution’s principles lies this one: that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” prohibiting the government from establishing a national religion or providing tax dollars toward or favouring any religion in particular, and disallowing government restrictions of private religious practices. Since the United States is a country founded upon the principle of religious freedom, it might seem that these laws are rooted in ethics.
Yet the actual settlement of North America by the pilgrims was not for the purposes of religious freedom for all, but rather, for freedom from what these particular Puritans considered to be religious persecution. The Puritans sought solace for their strict way of life and the United States served as the perfect breeding ground for their rigid lifestyle. Indigenous peoples were viewed as sinners and a lifestyle of all work and worship settled the purportedly virgin soil of New England.
With this pleasure-as-sin belief as the founding principle of the US, it is no wonder then why such conservative beliefs continue to manifest themselves within US society and government, even today. Even our movie rating system is based almost entirely upon sexual content; we’d rather our children see excessive violence than even a minor amount of sex. Despite the constant sales of sex in the media, the concept is still incredibly taboo when considering today’s political arena. Think back to the Clinton affair; the US media scrambled for months to uncover the whole scoop and millions of tax dollars were spent on lawyers paid to define the term “sexual relations,” while the whole of Europe laughed at us hysterically.
Indeed, the government is set on religious principles regarding chastity and the regulation of sex. Hence the terrifying recent move to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling which set the legal precedent for protecting a woman’s right to choose, and the immense push to ban same-sex marriages and fight the legislation permitting same-sex civil unions. While homosexual couples in the US struggle to attain the same rights as their heterosexual counter-parts, such as tax and insurance matters, as well as power-of-attorney and will rights, the conservative US government fights adamently against it. Yet there is no legal or economic interest in disallowing civil unions; the fight against gay couples in the United States is purely a Christian one. The same holds true with a woman’s right to choose; the well-being of the country is not at risk. The only interest in banning abortions is a political and religious one. In fact, since the 2004 election, millions of Americans have stated that their reasons for voting for Bush a second time had very little to do with Iraq or international politics and everything to do with his pro-life and anti-gay marriage policies.
Yet the prevalence of the conservative church within US politics is not strictly limited to the likes of sex. In particular with the Bush Administration is the religious demonization of its opponents, be they Afghani, Iraqi, or Palestinian. Despite adament rebuttals of accusations of waging a “holy war,” Bush’s religious convictions have remained evident in every military invasion since 9/11. On more than one occasion, Bush has stated that he is on “a mission from God,” and that believes that God sent him to attack Iraq. Reporting for The Observer on November 2, 2003, Paul Harris stated: “Bush is already under fire for allowing the appointment of General William Boykin to head the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Boykin, who speaks at Evangelical Christian meetings, once said the War on Terror was a fight against Satan, and also told a Somali warlord that, 'My God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.'” And in 2005, Nabil Shaath, Palestinian Foreign Minister, described his first meeting with Bush to the BBC, stating: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …" And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"
The more prevalent these religious dictums become, the more politically acceptable it has become for politicians and government officials to justify their policies through their religious beliefs. With the upcoming elections, would-be political leaders have been bursting to make their faiths known to the public at the risk of being deemed “unelectable.” Many believe that Giuliani, as a Catholic, can not win the Republican ticket for the 2008 presidential elections. Remember, the US has only ever elected one Catholic to office and he was assassinated. (Although probably more shocking is the Democrats’ challenge in giving their ticket to a black man or a woman – God forbid! – no pun intended). This religious classification has even seeped into British politics, with Blair’s decision to “come out” as a Catholic after resigning from office. Yet what difference does it make? Does the church one attends on Sunday affect a man or woman’s ability to successfully lead a country?
No one would deny any political leader the right to his or her own personal religious beliefs; but the idea is just that: to keep it private. A person’s personal religious or spiritual convictions have no place in the world of politics which affect every human being on the planet. Especially in a country like America, which prides itself on religious liberty and separation of Church and State, the deception is unbearable. But, regardless of personal convictions, to use religion to justify domestic laws and, even worse, international foreign policy, is a hypocrisy beyond the realms of justice.