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Religion in Politics: A History of Faith

March 15th, 2016

American presidents uninfluenced by religion in politics

American Presidents at Mt. Rushmore

Which is more true in today’s political environment: ‘Faith in politics’ or ‘Faith and politics’?  At the heart of this question is what many Americans struggle with every election season, as they are bombarded by the beliefs of candidates for an office that is (perhaps remarkably) still very secular. The original language of the U.S. Constitution mandates that no religious test shall be required to take the office of President. It then continues in its amendments to explain that citizens shall be free to practice whatever religion they wish, or to practice no religion at all, without interference from the government.

It was this freedom from governmental religion that brought many of our forebears here to begin anew, and continues to act as a beacon to the oppressed masses suffering persecution at the hands of their religious governments. Why then is the American political landscape so awash with the religious beliefs of the individual candidates? The answer may not be clear, but what is perfectly clear is that while our country was founded on the idea of religious freedom, it was at the same time populated and founded by a group of individuals who were primarily of Christian beliefs and ideals.

Religion and American Politics

As daily headlines announce the religious practices and beliefs of political candidates, we are all reminded that we are but a few steps away from religion at any given time. However, we should also be reminded that the loudest protestations of faith may not necessarily be the voices of the majority. This is because while the Christian faith, according to one study, accounts for approximately 70% of all religious groups in the United States today, the most political denominations of the Christian faith are actually a minority when seen as a reflection of the entire group as a whole.

Evangelical Christians, a minority group who have found a stronghold in the more conservative areas of the American political landscape, have been courted since their introduction to the playing field in the 1970s and 80s. The second largest religious group, according to the study referenced above, includes those citizens who actually describe themselves as either “unaffiliated/non-religious” or “nothing in particular” followed then by a third group of voters who identify with the other major religions of the world.

Some may ask, “Why, then, are debates still filled with protestations of faith over protestations of secular plans for a better future for the country?” If faith is to be a very personal thing which is by our own governing documents prohibited from taking a foothold in our nation’s highest office, it could be argued that there is no place for it in the political conversations being held in order to sway our votes toward one candidate over another. It is perhaps a fantasy that our country’s politico-religious fervor will fade into the background like other 20th century fads to capture voters. As the campaigning continues, the ULC will continue to monitor the religious proselytizing of those who seek to lead our country for the next four years as well as watch the courts to see how judicial decisions and opinions modify the legal landscape as it applies to our Constitution’s religious precedent.

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