Acton Institute Powerblog

The Political Double Standard for Religion

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The point has been made by outstanding thinkers like Stephen Carter and Richard John Neuhaus that the New York-Washington, D.C. establishment eats up left wing religion and declares it delicious. Give a radical a cross and we have activists bravely “speaking truth to power” and “speaking prophetically.” Put the cross in the hands of a conservative and suddenly secularism is the better course and church and state must be rigorously separated lest theocracy loom every closer.

I tried to draw attention to this double standard in my new book The End of Secularism by talking about both history and current events which prove the point. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway provided an excellent example in her Houses of Worship column for the Wall Street Journal last Friday as she reminded readers about the way faith-based initiatives have been viewed in this administration and its predecessor.

Bush filled the faith-based initiatives office with a prominent Ivy League sociologist and then with a former lawyer for Mother Theresa. Obama has chosen a Pentecostal preacher in his twenties to head up the office. Barry Lynn of the Americans for the Separation of Church and State was an avid critic of the Bush office. His position today? He serves on the advisory council’s task force for the office. Strangely, his concerns about the interaction of religion and politics seem to have dissolved now that the presidency has changed hands.

As I read Ms. Hemingway’s cutting piece, I couldn’t help but think about the Swedish socialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who were determined to destroy the tie between the nation’s church and state. Once they gained power, however, they had a change of heart. The church could prove useful under their enlightened leadership. I wonder if Barry Lynn feels the same way.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


  • I felt the same way as Hunter when I read Ms Hemingway’s article in the WSJ but the substantiating evidence is at where she posts a “shameless plug” for the article and in the tradition of that site explains how what has occurred with the acceptance by MSN to the existence of a Faith Based Program office is just another example of the press “getting or not getting religion.”

    The comments from some among the “religious left” are as always — breathtakingly unformed by principle.

  • Carlist

    Unfortunately, the Left, which is far more advanced in “dealing with the world” has long discovered that religion can be used to destroy Faith!

    Bela Dodd testified to this point over half a century ago but no one of any consequence seemed to be listening.

    People are just now becoming aware of the extent of damage done to the Catholic Church behind the facade of Vatican II and the “Nouvelle Theologie”

    And the “spear carriers” of the “Silent Apostasy” were members of the Church’s intellectual orders (Society of Jesus, Order of Preachers) who over a four decade period, destroyed Catholic higher education!