Faith groups and institutions should be able to form political parties to gain influence in government for their views and values. I will be discussing why they should be able to enter politics and attempt to elect their own politicians, what religious participation in government may look like, and how it would be limited. I will also discuss how a complete ban on religion in government may be unconstitutional, and the possible pros and cons of their participation in government.
Religious groups should be able to participate in government because the separation of church and state denies them the civil liberty to participate in politics armed with ideas formed from their spiritual values in the public square (Dreisbach). Thomas Jefferson’s original view of the separation of church and state was the church should be separated from only the federal government. The Supreme Court has since interpreted his words to mean that the church should be completely separated from the state and federal government.
As Daniel Dreisbach stated, the metaphoric “wall of separation” has been an expression of exclusion, intolerance, and bigotry. These phrases were used to exclude religious groups from full participation in public life (Dreisbach). I think religious participation would look similar to the current system. The people would still vote for whoever is in their best interest. I grew up a Lutheran, but if their policies weren’t in line to benefit me the most in my current life situation I would vote for whoever was. Many people say they are a certain religion but never actually go to church and participate.
The people of the United States would still vote for the politician that will benefit them the most if they are elected. I found an interesting article by Nicholas DiDonato while doing research for this assignment that discusses how religion can influence political beliefs. DiDonato cites Ryan Lamothe on how religion can affect political beliefs at the individual level. The article suggests that governments are going for a split between religion and politics but they actually mix quite a bit. LaMothe lists five ways religion can affect political beliefs at the individual level.
The first being that early on in life a person identifies with a particular religion and later on in life they disassociate themselves from that religion. With that religion in their mind, even though they are no longer a part of that group political ideology could replace the religion they once believed in. An example used was a religious belief of loving your neighbor could transform into secular political activism, like fighting for the poor. That could lead to a political activist dedicating his life to reducing poverty the same way a person could dedicate themselves to a particular religion (LaMothe).
The second would be the opposite of the first, a person starts out with no belief in religion and then later on in life converts to a religion. The result of converting to a religion later on in life could shift your political beliefs. The example for this would be a family that only goes to church on major holiday and then a member of the family dedicates themselves to that religion later on in life. This could lead to that individuals political views changing due to their newfound religious beliefs and religious community that they are now a part of (LaMothe).
The third is when a families children keep their religious lifestyle, but they apply to politics in a way that is foreign to their family. The example used for this was liberation theology in South America (LaMothe). “These clergy say that their Catholicism commits them to aiding the poor, and thus their religion leads them to political activism” (LaMothe). The fourth type focuses more on the political side instead of an individual’s religious experience. A person may say they believe in a religion but it could be difficult to gauge how dedicated they may be to that religion.
This type of person could have some inspiration from religion but their beliefs are almost solely influenced by their political position. This type is different from the first type because the individual’s religion had somewhat of an effect on their political stance. The fourth type say they belong to, or believe in a religion, but it does not play much of a role in their political beliefs (LaMothe). The final way a person’s religion can affect their political beliefs favors religious versus political. This type of religious experience tends to make people reject the political side altogether.
This person may have had a religious encounter that makes them believe they should have nothing to do with politics. Their religious beliefs would lead them to not participate in politics whatsoever (LaMothe). These five ways that religion can affect a person’s political views indicate that religion has no necessary connection with political beliefs or activism. A person being religious can cause them to be more involved in politics, and their political stance can play a role in their religious beliefs (LaMothe).
I believe that this article supports my opinion that with religious participation in government the outcome would be pretty similar to the current system. There are a lot of variables in play and just because someone grew up going to a Catholic church that doesn’t mean if they created a political party that the person would vote in that direction. Many things could happen in a person’s life that could drastically change their religious beliefs that would affect their political views and change the way they vote.
I have a cousin that was religious and went to church regularly, but then they had a child with Down syndrome and they no longer believe in God or affiliate themselves with any religion. I don’t know what their political stance was before, but their change in religious belief could potentially affect their political views. The point I’m trying to make is that I agree with Lamothe that at the individual level religious beliefs are fluid and pretty unpredictable. I believe, if faith groups and political institutions were able to create political parties and elect politicians into government, citizens would still vote with self-interest in mind.
They would not just vote for a particular religion they may have associated themselves with at some point in their life. Constitutionally speaking banning religious groups from forming political parties and gaining influence wouldn’t be workable because it does not allow them to express the beliefs from their religion to the public. This violates the first amendment. Creating a political party and having politicians elected wouldn’t mean people have to believe in, and join them. The people wouldn’t be required to believe in their religion or join their church.
This would also not be workable because there are ways around not being an official religious political party to gain influence for your beliefs. This is already happening with people aligning themselves with a party that has similar beliefs as them. They donate money and advocate for a politicians election into office because they may have the same or similar religious beliefs as their religion. It would be impossible to stop this from happening unless you completely banned people from religion. I think the limits to religious parties participating in government would be similar to today’s system.
Following the current Supreme Court interpretation of the constitution they would not be able to create a state or government church aligned with their party. By simply being able to create parties and run for office, faith groups would be able to express the beliefs they learned from their religion to the public. They may sway people to join their church and they may not, and the people would not be forced to. It may not have that large of an impact as many people think. According to a study done by the Pew Research Center America’s religious landscape is changing.
The number of Christians age 18 and older in America fell nearly eight percent from 2007 to 2014. The number of people that describe themselves as atheist or agnostic increased by about six percent. Also, 36 percent of younger millennials (born from 1990-1996) identify as atheist or agnostic (Pew Research Center). If these trends continue, and with the young millennial statistics it appears they will, allowing religious groups to create parties and run for office may not have that much of an effect on how people vote. There could be some negatives to allowing faith groups to form political parties and gain influence in the government.
The religious institutions could be extremely successful over time and make widespread changes. If they were able to get enough politicians elected and judges appointed they could potentially enact new laws and make new rulings on previous decisions. The one I think most Americans would worry about is if they gained enough power and influence over time they would be able to create a government sponsored church that they would be required to believe in. In this situation the sponsored church could potentially be completely funded by taxpayer money.
This may be a bit extreme because it could take many years to happen, but if they were able to influence enough people and elect a large majority of their members it could happen. There are also many positives that could come from allowing faith groups and religious institutions to create their own political parties. If religious groups were to have a large influence research shows our society would benefit from it. According to Patrick Fagan religious practice promotes well-being of individuals, families, and the community. The studies show that people living in poverty would benefit the most from religion.
The study indicated that, “regular attendance of religious services were linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages, and well-behaved children (Fagan). The study also indicated that there was a lot of different aspects of society that would benefit from religious practice, I will highlight a few. The studies have shown that a higher level of religious involvement reduce the chance of drug and substance abuse (Fagan). Religious involvement can increase your happiness and well-being, the involvement was associated with people having more hope and a sense of purpose in life.
It also predicts less stress and increa cts less stress and increased self-esteem. Those can both help decrease depression, and it was also indicated that 87 percent of the studies surveyed showed that religious practice is related to a decrease in the chance of death by suicide (Fagan). There were many more positives things listed showing that religion benefits society and that is why religious groups should be able to create parties and attempt to influence society. In my opinion the positives far out weight the possible negatives.
In conclusion, the United States of America should allow faith groups and religious institutions to create political parties to attempt to gain influence in the workings of government for their views and values by entering the realm of political discourse and attempt to elect their own politicians. Continuing to not allow this denies religious groups the civil liberty to participate in politics with ideas they formed from their spiritual beliefs in the public. I will leave you with my favorite piece of reading that I found while researching for this essay.
Our Founding Fathers, in their dedication to liberty, promoted the freedom of all Americans to practice religious beliefs, or not, as they choose. Although the freedom not to practice Religion is intrinsic to religious freedom, that protection does not mean that this non-practice of religion is equally beneficial to society. Social science date reinforce George Washington’s declaration in his farewell address: ” Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports” (Fagan).