Faith Applied to Politics

Applying faith to politics isn’t an easy task. This is especially true in the USA.

Americans of faith frequently point out the freedom of religion that is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Yet, they often overlook the full implication of that freedom.

Freedom of religion means that one is free to practice one’s religious beliefs so long as one does not harm another. However, the same freedom also means that one is free to not conform to another’s religious beliefs.

The U.S. Constitution forbids the government from forcing people to conform to any religious teaching. Still, that fact doesn’t stop some Americans from striving to turn their religious beliefs into civil law. It is as if those people are saying, “Freedom of religion for me but not for thee.”

The words separation of church and state may not appear in the U.S. Constitution, but the idea is implied in that document. In short, Americans of faith cannot turn the USA into a theocracy of their liking.

Still, it is only natural that one would want to apply one’s faith to politics. It is only a matter of how to do it without infringing on the rights of others.

Applying faith to politics should begin by acknowledging something that all people have in common. That something is our damaged, fallen spiritual state.

One ought not to repeat the foolishness of Ann Coulter, who said, “There are a lot of bad Republicans. There are no good Democrats.”

[Note: The above hyperlink goes to an image that is accompanied by a recording of Ann Coulter talking to Sean Hannity. The recording plays automatically.]

Coulter claims to be a Christian, but if she had bothered to study the New Testament, then she would know that, from a Christian perspective, there are no good Republicans and no good conservatives, either.

Anyway, applying faith to politics should also include an acknowledgement of the limitations of the government. Some problems can only be solved by a change of heart, but the government cannot change hearts.

People of faith can politely debate among themselves additional ways to apply faith to politics. This writer simply wants to get such a conversation started.

Faith and Politics

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  • Paul Hooson

    If Ann Coulter is a Christian, then I’d think even the very best CSI could not find much DNA evidence of that. Far better examples of Christians exist than her by far. My mother knew former Senator Mark Hatfield’s wife well, and the senator’s Baptist faith was central to his life, goals as governor and senator, and his achievements.

  • yetanotherjohn

    I think that part of the problem is the faith for many democrats is not in a higher power but in a higher government. If they could just pass the right laws everything would be perfect. No hunger, injustice, etc. The problem is that we live in a broken world and no matter how many band aids you apply to the world it will remain broken. You need something perfect from the outside to come and make it perfect, or more accurately come a second time. The first time started the process by accepting the punishment for all of us (including me) who have contributed to breaking the world. If you just look for worldly solutions to the broken world, you will forever be disappointed. But if you don’t reject the perfect solution, it will all turn out right in the end.

  • Scalia

    The U.S. Constitution forbids the government from forcing people to conform to any religious teaching.

    Where?

    The words separation of church and state may not appear in the U.S. Constitution, but the idea is implied in that document.

    Where? And when you think you’ve found it, please define that term (you won’t, of course).

    • You could have just referred him here.

      The phrase (“a wall of separation between church and state”) itself arises from an 1802 letter by then President Thomas Jefferson replying to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut (one of the states which still had an established religion in 1802, which states in pertinent part):

      Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people [The Constitution and Bill of Rights] which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

      • Scalia

        That David is ignorant of the Constitution has been painfully evident for a very long time.

    • pennywit

      The U.S. Constitution forbids the government from forcing people to conform to any religious teaching.

      Well … the Religious Test clause, for one thing. You can also make the argument that the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment restrain the government from imposing one particular religion as the state religion, or forcing individuals to indulge in any particular faith’s religious rituals.

      • And back to the Text (Article IV):


        The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

        Bars the Federal Government from using any religious test as a qualification/disqualification for any Office or public Trust of the United States Government.

        • pennywit

          (And those individuals holding an “Office or public trust” are, themselves, people. Therefore, the gov’t may not force thos epeople to conform to any religious teaching).

          • Scalia

            Yes, those people.

          • Well snarked…

          • pennywit

            Who are, in fact, people. Statement above said “people,” which could be interpreted as “all people” or “any people.”

          • Scalia

            Statement above said “people,” which could be interpreted as “all people” or “any people” who want to hold a public office.

            FIFY 🙂

          • pennywit

            Oh, big bolshy yarbles to thee and thine.

          • Perhaps you should have quoted:

            As noted Constitutional Scholar “pennywit” writes:

            gov’t may not force thos[e] [sic] people

      • Scalia

        Which is one of the reasons I asked David to define separation of church and state. No religious test is required as a qualification for office, but that’s about it.

        • pennywit

          Moving on from our semi-fun quibble over constitutional interpretation:

          While some Founding Fathers (especially Thomas Jefferson) were certainly committed to freedom of religion, I honestly don’t think that the Religious Test Clause and the First Amendment were truly about individual freedom. Rather, given the variety of Christian faiths present in the colonies, I suspect the First Amendment and Religious Test clauses were passed as political necessities, to reassure citizens and legislators that the federal government would not prefer one religious group over another.

          • Scalia

            Oh, it’s been fun. You’re a good conversationalist, and I agree that that many feared a national preference for one denomination over another. I just don’t think they ever dreamed that a football coach who silently knelt for 30 seconds after a game would get suspended under the First Amendment, or that a teacher could get fired for merely having a Bible on her desk. But Jane deciding she’s Johnny has to be embraced no matter how disconcerting it is to young minds. Something’s flipped in our country.

          • pennywit

            Quick question — Could you give me links to those cases? I’d like to take a look at them myself.

            I’ve seen a lot of church/public school entanglement cases that are pretty damn troubling, most of them featuring much more than a coach kneeling or a teacher with a Bible on the desk.

          • Scalia

            Here’s the one about the Bremerton High School coach. I’ll hunt for the Bible on the desk one now…

            EDIT: This has not been resolved, but I doubt our current courts will side with him.

          • pennywit

            Eeek. I followed your link, then I read a couple more articles. I’m pulled in a couple directions on Coach Kennedy. A few thoughts:

            1) As a threshold matter, I am very much against public-school teachers, coaches, and school principals proselytizing at students or leading them in any sort of religious observance. Aside from federal and state constitutional implications, it’s inherently coercive for school personnel to lead students in religious observances, and it interferes with parental rights.

            2) I came across one allegation that aside from the midfield prayer, he would at times lead his team in prayer and give inspirational religious talks. But according to that same source, he also stopped doing that when the school brought it to his attention.

            3) His observance after game times is a somewhat difficult question for me. Does a coach praying after game time violate the Constitution, per se? My answer to that is a very logical “Eerrrrrrmmmmm … ” After thinking about it, I would evaluate the practice in light of the students in his care. Do they feel coerced to join him in prayer? Has he implied that he’ll favor students who join him in some way, or disfavor those who do not? That would really decide the question for me.

          • pennywit

            PS. On these church/state questions, I think it’s helpful to ask what you would think of somebody from a religion you don’t like committing the same act.

          • Scalia

            As a student, it would not have bothered me to see my Jehovah’s Witness teacher with a New World Translation on h/er desk. It wouldn’t bother me if the Koran were on my Muslim teacher’s desk.

          • pennywit

            I think you and I largely agree on the “book on the desk” issue. I don’t see that as inherently coercive. I see it as in line with wearing a cross on your neck or something similar.

          • Paul Hooson

            I like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have many friends among them. I like that their faith has many Old Testament based teachings and it’s basis on Jehovah God. – But, none of that is to miss your point that it would not bother you to have a teacher of faith, no matter that faith. I respect that sentiment, although I admit that I feel more comfortable as a whole with either Christians or Jews, but that’s just my personal sentiments.

          • pennywit

            Incidentally, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were parties in some of the most significant First Amendment cases in the 20th century.

          • Paul Hooson

            They have an unrealistic, but interesting religious views, not voting in elections as well as not pledging loyalty to any nation.

          • pennywit

            Another one about Joe Kennedy. CNN wrote:

            In Wednesday’s letter, the district said it has offered Kennedy a private location to use for personal prayer after games, such as areas in the school building or in the stadium press box. But Kennedy declined, the letter says.
            “Instead, his legal representatives have clearly stated in the media that an accommodation that does not allow Kennedy the spotlight of the 50-yard line immediately following games will be unacceptable to him,” the letter reads.

          • Scalia

            Yes, I’m aware of all the surrounding circumstances. I still side with him. If he’s not coercing his students to pray with him, he’s got every right to do that, especially since his prayer is silent.

          • pennywit

            Do you think the offer of a private space for prayer was a reasonable accommodation?

          • Scalia

            No.

          • pennywit

            Why not?

          • Scalia

            Because he wasn’t interfering with anything. It wasn’t on class time, the games were over, it was a silent prayer, nobody was asked to participate, and there is no history of coercion. Moreover, the basis of the objection is that it is somehow a violation of the First Amendment. Thus, the objection is wrong; the coach did nothing wrong.

          • pennywit

            I think that if we treat this as an EEOC case (which he has filed, as I recall), then the school system could argue that a private place of prayer is a reasonable accommodation. On the free exercise/establishment nexus, I think there would have to be more information/discovery.

  • b l

    “The words separation of church and state may not appear in the U.S. Constitution, but the idea is implied in that document.”

    It is somewhat more than implied. The phrase “no law respecting an establishment of religion” covers it. How? Because explicit in the Constitution is that government works only by law. There is no “decree” power, no presumption of authority. What the government does it does by Law. And “respecting”, in this use, means “with regards to”.

    Ergo, the government cannot make a law regarding an establishment of religion. It cannot fund them. It cannot illegalize them. It cannot mandate licenses for priests, or print and distribute holy books- all of those would take acts of law.

    It cannot even legally define them. An act of government defining what a certain “establishment of religion” was or is would require a law to be legal, and the government cannot do that. So when the president tells you that certain beliefs are not part of a certain religion, remember that’s his personal opinion only, the government cannot make those distinctions.

    The government IS allowed to “leave blank spaces” which people can then fill on their own. They can have a quiet break during which people can pray. They can allow people to put Christmas Trees in front of public buildings- they just can’t have the government pay for it.

    • Congress shall make no law…

      At the time of the Adoption of the Constutition several of the States had, and continued to have, Established Churches.

      • b l

        We have a long history of not living up to our constitution. Nevertheless, it is the standard we aim for.

        • Non-responsive.

        • Scalia

          The fact that others have disregarded our Constitution does not imply that we should continue to do so.

        • pennywit

          The answer you’re looking for, B I, is that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses were incorporated against the states under the Fourteenth Amendment in the 1940s. A quick visit to Wikipedia furnishes this information.

          Additionally, most state constitutions today contain free-exercise and non-establishment clauses, and these clauses have often been interpreted as being congruent with federal First Amendment jurisprudence.

      • b l

        Unconstitutional.

        • Scalia

          It turns language and history on its head to insist that the states who ratified the First Amendment understood their ratification to ban their established churches. They did not such thing.

          • b l

            YES THEY DID!! All of the “established state churches” were officially disestablished. All of them. Every single one, Connecticut’s being the last in 1818.

          • Scalia

            Oh, please. That wasn’t due to what they considered a violation of the First Amendment (which restricted Congress, not the states). The people of the various states opposed paying taxes or tithes to particular religions, and that’s what sparked the disestablishment movement among the states.

          • pennywit

            No. The original understanding of the First Amendment was that it restrained the federal government, not the states, from establishing religion or from interfering with individuals’ free exercise thereof.

            I happen to believe that the states should not establish religions, and I do happen to agree with the incorporation doctrine (although I think the incorporation doctrine should more properly be founded on the “privileges and immunities” clause). But that does not mean I get to disregard American constitutional history.

    • Scalia

      Not only did several of the states have established churches (as Rodney pointed out), but the same week that the First Amendment was approved to be sent to the states, the members of the First Congress voted to appoint and to pay (with tax money) a chaplain for each House.

      The Establishment Clause forbids a national church; it has nothing to do with prayer, paying for and using chaplains, or voters approving of laws which are informed by their religious convictions.

      • b l

        My views did not originate with me. Thomas Jefferson, who was a leading contributor to our constitution, said: “”I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

        Jefferson viewed the “make no law respecting” clause as creating the separation of Church and State. More than anyone else living or dead, he knew best… except Madison himself, who DID write it. But Madison wrote in extreme Lawyerese. Jefferson makes it plainer, Madison wrote stuff like:

        “The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both;” yada yada yada. But the same idea. “exempt from its cognizance” means the government simply does not recognize it.

        And to the point of Chaplains, Madison, who WROTE the 1st amendment, hotly opposed it.

        “The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain! To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the evil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers or that the major sects have a tight to govern the minor.”

        The fact that we had chaplains for Congress does not mean it was constitutional; it means that often, we do not live up to the constitution.

        • Scalia

          Jefferson’s words are not incorporated into the Constitution, and Madison’s opinion does not control its interpretation. If the Senate passes a bill outlawing the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic weapons and two senators (one of them being the author of the legislation) subsequently insist that they meant to ban the use of semi-automatic weapons, a court would say something akin to “sale you said and sale it is.” EDIT: By extension, it is the Senate’s interpretation and understanding that controls, not the personal objections of the author and another senator.

          Similarly, the fact that the Congress voted to hire and pay legislative chaplains and the fact that states with established churches voted to ratify the First Amendment demonstrates that laws with expressly religious purposes, public prayer, the directing of funds toward religious purposes and the enactment of laws informed by religious convictions pose no threat to the First Amendment as understood by the Congress and the states that adopted it. It is the People’s understanding of the First Amendment and not the personal reservations of a couple of men that control how the Constitution is to be interpreted.

          • b l

            Interpretation? When you’ve got the writer’s actual words?
            You’re one of these “Living Document” liberals? K, bye then.

          • Scalia

            You’re dodging and failing to reply to the argument. Go if you wish, but you don’t have a rational leg to stand on. We don’t live under a dictatorship. It is clear what the country adopted with the First Amendment. You choose to ignore that.

          • Commander_Chico

            No, he’s an “original intent” guy when the Founders agree with his contemporary policy preferences.

          • Why thank you for the opinion from Spain.

          • Scalia

            I’m an originalist at all times when it comes to the Constitution.

          • Come now, Scalia, our soi disant cognoscenti surely knows your mind better than you do…

        • Thomas Jefferson was unable to convince enough Delegates to the Constitutional Convention to endorse his point of view. Nor has anyone since had the polical moxy to get such an amendment through the ratification process.

  • Wild_Willie

    David, I tremble when people try to use scripture to suit their viewpoint. There is so much implied with many a verse/parable. I am a devout Christian who happen to vote. I do have core beliefs but most of the time they do not effect my voting record. Case in point is I am a Trump supporter but I know he does not hold many of the beliefs I have but I think he is good for the country. So your opinion isn’t much.

    Secondly, I have learned to never state who is a Christian and who is not. Ann and Hillary can say they are but that is solely between their heart and God. I have nothing to say or do about it.

    Thirdly I generally keep the gay issue at arms length but do not get involved. Again that is between them and God. But when it becomes a voter issue in the booth, I have to vote my core.

    And lastly, if you want to use the scripture, all Christians are to become Christlike. When the government took over feeding, clothing and giving money to the poor, Christians have lost their ability to be Christlike. That is wrong.

    So with love, keep your nose out of the ‘religion’ business. (I prefer faith). There is no place for those that reason, only the ignorant participate. ww

    • Scalia

      David, I tremble when people try to use scripture to suit their viewpoint.

      Perhaps you are wording that incorrectly. How are scriptural discussions carried out unless participants quote the Scriptures in favor of or in defense of their beliefs?

  • Vagabond661

    To be Christian is not to be perfect.

  • Vagabond661

    Applying faith to politics is exactly what the Democrats do.
    Their Faith, their Religion is the government. They consider themselves to be infallible like the Pope.

    To say that faith only applies to the right or conservatives is half…..right.

  • pennywit

    I find Ann Coulter’s politics repulsive, but I don’t think there’s any point in still kicking her. You could argue she was relevant in the 1990s and early to mid aughts, but she hasn’t been a major presence in some time.