Posts tagged with: religion in the public square

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, September 6, 2012
By

Video: At the Democratic National Convention, delegates opposed to adding language on God, Israel’s capital to platform shout, “No!” in floor vote.

On Powerline, John Hinderaker quotes from a recent Rasmussen Reports poll to show that “Democrats, bluntly put, have become the party of those who don’t go to church.”

Among those who rarely or never attend church or other religious services, Obama leads by 22 percentage points. Among those who attend services weekly, Romney leads by 24. The candidates are even among those who attend church occasionally. Romney leads by seven among Catholic voters and holds a massive lead among Evangelical Christians. [Ed.: Remember when one of the chief worries about Romney’s candidacy was that evangelicals wouldn’t support a Mormon?] Among other Protestants, the Republican challenger is ahead by 13. Among all other Americans, including people of other faiths and atheists, Obama leads by a 62% to 26% margin.

CNN reports that atheists were “deeply saddened” when Democrats inserted the word “God” back into their platform.

Perhaps because of the Republican Party’s ties to conservative Christianity, atheists tend to be Democrats. According to a 2012 Pew study, 71% of Americans who identified as atheist were Democrats.

Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own  “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:

Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”

The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.

Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012’s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.

Need a logical defense of religious freedom? Look no further than First Things‘ “On the Square” web exclusive, where future University of St. Thomas assistant philosophy professor Tomas Bogardus tackles a proposed restriction of an idea long taken for granted in free countries. Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, recently published an article, “The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom,” which proposes to limit “the legitimate defense of religious freedom to rejecting proposals that stop people from practicing their religion.”

Singer’s article addresses some global examples. Recently, the Dutch parliament began reviewing legislation that would mandate the stunning of livestock before slaughter. This of course violates the customs of Judaism and Islam, both of which require practitioners to eat meat only from animals that were conscious when killed. To dissenting Jews and Muslims, Singer’s solution is simple:  Don’t eat meat. He says, “When people are prohibited from practicing their religion—for example, by laws that bar worshiping in certain ways—there can be no doubt that their freedom of religion has been violated. But prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion.” Singer then transposes this approach to the HHS mandate: Because no Catholic teaching requires Catholics to establish and run hospitals, the state can order Catholics to provide employees with health care packages that cover birth control medications. If Catholics don’t like that, they can close the doors to their hospitals without damage to their doctrinal standards.

Bogardus’ response is well-reasoned and relevant:

One catches a glimpse of Singer’s utopia, full of vegetarian Muslims and Jews and Christians who employ no one. And all under compulsion of the state. His argument for this utopia has three steps. One: if a policy does not compel religionists to violate a teaching of their religion, then the policy is not an improper infringement on the practice of their religion. Two: if a policy does not unduly infringe upon the practice of a religion, it is not a violation of religious freedom. Three: since e.g. the Obama Administration’s mandate does not require Catholics to violate any Catholic dogma, Singer concludes that the mandate doesn’t violate Catholics’ religious freedom. Q.E.D., as philosophers are said to say.

So much for the argument. What shall we say in response? At least this: Singer’s argument succeeds only if every step is true. Yet the first two steps of Singer’s argument cannot both be true, since together they lead to absurd conclusions. Isn’t it possible, after all, for a policy to violate someone’s religious freedom even without compelling her to transgress any teaching of her religion?

He goes on to address both hypothetical and actual situations that, under the lens of Singer’s microscope, prove problematic. The full column is relevant, insightful and absolutely worth a read as issues of religious freedom become more pressing in our present context.