Religionized Democracy: Current State of Affairs
Guest Author: Susi Bocks
Can we truly be a Democratic society if we run our country based on religious concepts and not a country based on the idea of separation of church and state?
Dictionary.com would define democracy as a type of government that is run by the people and one in which people are the supreme power; power would be exercised by them or their elected agents under a free electoral system. As it is a government of the people, it would follow that it would be invested in the success of all the people. However, democracies are generally of the opinion that majority rules and it does not guarantee that people will have an equal say or favorable outcome in those decisions that affect their lives. The United States is a representative Republic and as such, attempts to protect the voices of the minority. It operates within many of the essences of a democracy, thereby cherry picking the best of both forms in its current state of being.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The first amendment clearly gives the citizenry of the United States the right to practice or believe whatever they choose, but it also clearly tells them that the government shall not give favor to one religion over another or permit any faction of religion to be a ruling force in our government or in the nation within the context of that freedom. The government takes a neutral or secular stance in all levels of government on the issue of religion. Rather, it should take that position, but, too often, we are seeing that is not the case within the framework of our current government and, in particular, the election process.
The United States citizenry is made up of all different cultures, ethnicities and having a wide variety of religious affiliations. Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which draws primarily on a nationwide survey conducted from May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007, finds the largest majority (83%) of our citizens identify as religious; 78.4% considering themselves as being Christians. The remaining 17% minority claims to either not believe in or identify with a particular religion or didn’t know their religious status. While a majority of the citizens claiming a religious affiliation are not the issue, the assumption by that majority that religion should play a large part in government is the problem.
Religion and politics should remain separate, but one only needs to look to the current crop of Republican contenders for the presidency of 2012, who wear their religious identification on their sleeves, and listen to their speeches – one can see that is not what is happening in the United States right now. The Democrats are just as guilty of using religion at every opportunity as a means to getting elected. When either party gives a speech peppered with religiosity and ends with “God Bless America” they are pandering to the base that will see to it they are elected. We watch as religion is being employed as the driving force behind using our citizens to bypass what our Founding Fathers had originally intended. The fact that they use their religion to attain a seat in any position of government reflects how this country’s original dialog and the basis of our freedoms are not being upheld in today’s society. Politicians have the right to a religious belief of their choosing, but they also have the obligation when seeking public office to act as proxy to all of their constituents by respecting the constitution in that election process.
Article 6 of the Constitution states: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” After the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was proclaimed on July 21, 1868, its Article 6 became binding on individual states. The religious requirement clauses in state constitutions became null and void. The 14th Amendment stated: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Yet, there are still some state clauses that proclaim that if a person doesn’t have faith in a god he or she would not be eligible to run for office. Some of the states still using a religious test include: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee & Texas. In Pennsylvania, the statute reads: Pennsylvania, Article I, Section 4: No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth. This doesn’t say that a person claiming no religious affiliation could be disqualified, but rather, that believers can’t be disqualified. The fact that this language is even present in any laws, specifically as there is no religious test for office, is a testament to the unwillingness of religious forces to remove religion from our politics and keep the original secular intent in place.
In recent and past history, many political figures have, in fact, come out publicly, that religion should play an important part in our politics in spite of the illegality of demanding it as a requirement to hold office. On March 27, 2011, Newt Gingrich, in a speech at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX, said “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” The implication being that we should only be a Christian nation and not one of mixture and variety of faiths or non-faiths.
On August 27, 1987 in Chicago, IL, George Bush said the following to Robert I. Sherman, a reporter for the American Atheist news journal: Bush: No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God. Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church? Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I’m just not very high on atheists. In his demonization of atheists, his statements conflict with the idea that he supports a separation of church and state and, in the process, denigrates a segment of the population.
Pat Buchanan attempted to run for President in 1992, 1996 and 2000, but was also not successful in his bid. Nevertheless, Buchanan injects his faith into discussions where he can. One example, while speaking before the Christian Coalition in 1993, he said “Our culture is superior. Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free.” He continued his rhetoric out on the campaign trail while speaking at an anti-gay rally in Des Moines, IA on February 11, 1996. “We’re going to bring back God and the Bible and drive the gods of secular humanism right out of the public schools of America.” This type of campaigning, where it is perfectly acceptable to use one’s ideology in getting elected to a political office, goes completely against what our constitution stands for.
The fact that the 78.4% of our country is made up of Christians is not lost on politicians. They capitalize on seeming to be one of the faithful and show disdain for those who do not share their faith. The citizens who are hearing these statements and identify with the sentiments will ultimately, with their vote, support the point of view of that politician. Those campaigning are attempting to influence the majority in this country using their religion and ignoring what was intended in the founding of our country.
This country was established with a secular government in mind; ensuring that the rights of all were to be recognized. However, our society, although democratic in nature, is not upholding the democratic ideal of the separation of church and state if it allows campaigns to run under the pretense that religion is allowed to infiltrate the process. When we allow religious overtones to permeate campaign rhetoric and also let the religious influences dictate how affairs are conducted in governmental offices, this country is no longer based on the idea of separation of church and state.
The United States considers itself a democracy and the virtue of its society characterized by a formal equality of rights and privileges. If those rights and privileges of the non-religious and/or other religions are being denied in favor of Christianity only, we do not have a democracy guaranteeing a government for or by the people; and the ideal of a representative republic, in which minority rights are protected from the tyranny of the majority, is a complete fiction.