top of page
  • Jacob Hansen

Keep Your Religion Out Of Politics?

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Separation of church and state is a fundamental idea in American civil thought. However, many in the secularist movement in America twists this idea to mean something that is not based in history, the constitution or sound logic.




The argument to keep religious influence from politics generally is based in the fear that, if left unchecked, the religious majority will use government power and to impose their beliefs on others against their will. However, you will not find a single major religious group in the US whose religious doctrine advocates forcing others to believe what they believe against their will. In fact nearly every major religion teaches to allow others to live according to the dictates of their own conscience so long as they do not violate the rights of others to do the same. However it is not so simple. We live in a society, not a vacuum. It should be kept in mind that religious people are also citizens and have a right to influence policy as they believe is good for society.

 We all have varying views on what exactly constitutes a "just law" that creates a "good society", hence the intense political debates. This is because justice is a highly moral/philosophical (and even religious) concept and there is no perfect consensus. (To see great Harvard lectures on this <click here>). We all use our conscience to decide what laws we support. Religious citizens are voting according to their conscience like everyone else. Obviously their conscience and decisions are influenced by their faith but are they supposed to ignore these influences when voting? Is this form or religious expression not allowed in the US?

 Its ironic that many ardent secularist try to use the very amendment that gives you the right to express your religious opinions to repress it. Just because I disagree with what you express doesn't mean I want to deny your right to express it.

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. 


Because so many of the founding fathers believed a religious culture crucial to the success of America they included its protection it in the first amendment to the constitution. If you actually read the constitution, the explicit separation of church and state is nowhere to found. However, the protection of your right to freely exercise your religion is. The amendment itself seems to put more focus on the protection of religion from government than of government from religion. In fact many of the founders believed religion to be essential because it would create a culture that would encourage civility and virtue by choice instead of by legislated government coercion.

"We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."- John Adams


So what's religions purpose in relation to civil government? One of the premises of the American founding was the idea that good society was a society in which people were as

free as possible.  Still, a free man if untempered by virtue is a dangerous creature. Historically, the sovereign defined virtue and used coercion and law to promote it. The brilliant notion of the American founders was that government should be designed to make men free and private religion was the tool for promoting/defining virtue. Thus allowing men to choose virtue according to the dictates of individual conscience instead of the coercion of the sovereign. Sadly, we seem to live in a day where religion and virtue are no longer extolled but challenged and as human behavior slides we look to the law for help.

The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become. - D Todd Christofferson

The ideals of the American founding puts an enormous load on the need for religion to create a healthy culture that would control behavior; not by government coercion, but by free choice under the influence of religious ideals. Considering how much has depended on religion in the development of a stable American culture it is no wonder our motto is "In God We Trust" and that the very first amendment was designed to protect against the restriction of religious expression.

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." - George Washington. 




3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page