Lux et Lex
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” — Søren Kierkegaard
The intersection of religion and politics in America has existed since before America became a country. Nearly 230 years after declaring independence, Americans are still struggling with understanding the relationship between religion and politics in their culture.
Far too many misunderstand the two religion clauses of the First Amendment and wrongly assume the often-used phrase, “separation of church and state,” is in the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment was written to protect the church from the state and its citizens from both. In fact, prior to the American experiment, no government had ever existed without symbiotically ruling with a leader of an institutionalized religion.
The Constitution does not prevent a person’s faith from influencing their level of involvement in politics. Rather, the First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the federal and state governments from nationalizing any religion, from creating a national church, and from favoring one religion over another.
And it all began after an English clergyman and scholar left his country profoundly affected by civil war over church and crown, and arrived on a new continent only to be persecuted for his religious and political beliefs. His experience, and perhaps the most influential political treatise ever written, influenced a rallying cry, “Soul Libertie,” which radically upended centuries of long-held assumptions about governance.
This new political philosophy introduced a way to separate individual freedom from governmental authority and legally separate the church from the government. His ideas influenced leaders for centuries. One such leader was Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Bill of Rights, which became the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Jefferson emphasized the importance of limiting a centralized government’s power to prevent it from interfering in its citizens’ religious or non-religious activities.
When Jefferson wrote, “self-evident truths” and “endowed by our Creator” in the Declaration of Independence, which is part of the founding U.S. Code, his clearly stated intention was not to exclude God from public life. Rather, he asked,
Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?”
Today, religious freedom, civil liberties, definitions of biology, personhood, and religious beliefs are all being legislated by a behemoth centralized and secular government. The challenge lies in whether or not the Constitution is applied to laws that oppose the will of the people.
When it comes to political parties, despite the fact that Americans have shifted their party identification over the last several years, religion remains a strong marker of their political identity. Gallup polls reveal that “very religious” Americans are more likely to identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and less frequently identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared to those who self-identify as “moderately religious” or “nonreligious.”
From anthems, to the Pledge of Allegiance, to the oaths taken when accepting a political office, even the principles specified in the Constitution, all point to God, whose truth is marching on.
In fact, most Christians argue freedom is inextricably linked to what Julia Ward Howe wrote in the Battle Hymn of the Republic: through Jesus Christ men are made free.
One of the Hymn’s stanzas:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.
While God is marching on.
(Most modern versions rephrase the above stanza with: “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.”)