When Religion, Politics Mix

By Gus Tyler

Published November 19, 2004, issue of November 19, 2004.

While most of the country was heatedly engaged in the election clashes over Iraq and the economy, a movement of white Evangelicals or “Born Again Christians,” organized around “moral values” — namely, opposition to abortion and gay marriages — came to play a decisive role in the re-election of George Bush. When voters were asked in exit polls what were the top issues in their mind, “moral values” was among the leaders along with the economy and Iraq. The November 4 New York Times headline read, “Moral Values Cited as a Defining Issue of the Election.”

This was no accident. Earlier this year, the White House appealed directly to churches to distribute literature on behalf of Bush and to engage in active registration of their congregations. When people protested that this was in violation of the separation of Church and State, Steve Schmidt, an authorized spokesman for the White House, said, “People of faith have as much right to participate in the political process as any other community.”

In enticing churches to back Bush, the White House had a tasty morsel. Some time ago, the White House moved to back “faith-based” charities. Did this mean that any congregation that said it was “faith-based” was entitled to government money? Obviously not. To carry out things this way would bring on a deluge of newly improvised congregations seeking the handout. Which means that the White House had to be selective as to which “churches” got aid and which did not. Which means that government money could be used to buy political backing for Bush through the churches.

Underlying all this is the more provocative and profound question of the separation of Church and State. It is perfectly proper that a church advise its congregants that abortion or same-sex marriages are sinful and that its congregants would burn in hell if they practice these evil ways. But it is not all right under our Constitution to enact legislation in any form that outlaws abortions or same-sex marriages applicable to everyone, including those who do not share the convictions of the Church.

To do so would be to practice what the Muslims call “shariah” — namely, the supremacy of the Koran and the clergy in the governance of a society. That is the philosophy of Osama bin Laden — not of Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1779, in connection with a Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, wrote: “Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burdens…tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness… that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical….”

Shall the “land of the free” be the latest to join these preachers and practitioners of prejudice and persecution?



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