Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Religion and Citizenship

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity opens the 24th plenary assembly tomorrow with the topic: "Witnesses to Christ in the Political Community." Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed a "pressing need" for a renewed commitment from Catholics in political life.

The session will not inspire a return of priests holding seats in Congress, but I suspect an emphasis on lay Catholics voting and participating in open accordance with their religiously-cultivated consciences.

One hopes the focus should spur a dialogue on the role of religion in citizenship. Too long has the left succeeded in arguing that religious morality should be excluded from politics (under the rubric of "separation of church and state" or tolerance for diversity) - while, at the same time, defining their own moral views as "secular" and hence perfectly suitable for politics. Any person whose values or opinions are persuaded by religious faith or morality ought thus be banned from politics - only atheists and de facto faithless believers are sufficiently "secular" to properly influence politics.

Of course, this view was anathema to the Founders and is contrary to every sensible interpretation of a "separation of church and state," properly understood. A robust defense of religious citizenship may soon be due. In contemplation thereof, I offer the preeminent statesman:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. 'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric. 

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Discussions - 2 Comments

"...at the same time, defining their own moral views as "secular" and hence perfectly suitable for politics."

Thank you, Justin, for pointing out something that is often lost in the debate over how to define the religious aspects of the first amendment. There is a great difference between religious influence (or lack there of) over one's moral and philosophical beliefs (one's philosophy of life and death, & c.) and that of theology ("You shall have no other gods before me," religious tests for office holding, & c.). To argue that the former has no place in public debate is as wrong as saying that the latter does have a place.

Actually, I believe "progressives" and liberals want to have it both ways.

First, they want "secular beliefs" protected under the First Amendment as being tantamount to "religious beliefs" (and the Supreme Court has agreed to this inclusion).

And yet, they also want religous beliefs excised from the political sphere as impermissibly founded upon religion, whereas their secular beliefs (which they argue are the equivalent of religous beliefs) remain somehow properly political.

It's simply a matter of saying, my beliefs are better than yours, so yours shouldn't be allowed. Atheism should get all the legal protections afforded by the Constitution to religous beliefs, and be the only legitimate influence on politics. Religious beliefs should not be allowed any role beyond that afforded to it in the Constitution - to be legally permitted to exist in the mind of the believer.

This is the most obvious, and pernicious, form of prejudice in America today.

Or, at least, that's what I think....

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