Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hallowed Secularism and the 2008 Presidential Election

8/18/2007--From the religion side in my book, American Religious Democracy (2007) and now from the secular side in this upcoming book, Hallowed Secularism, I have been saying that there needs to be a new openness to religion in public life. Given voting trends, it is not surprising that the Presidential candidates are doing just that, sometimes shamelessly.

But it can be difficult to get the new paradigm right. For example, in a bid for religious support, Mayor Giuliani has called for the reinstatement of school prayer at high school graduations. But of course he must know that this is a constitutional issue, so the only effect he can have on it is by nominating Supreme Court Justices who agree with that position. That would require a litmus test that Presidents say they don’t do (but of course they do; in fact we should hope they do or democracy would not mean much). It also would require a constitutional theory of Establishment of religion—a new law of Church and State. Well, what is that new approach? I know Mayor Giuliani does not know because no one proposing changes like this has ever said what that approach would be, except for Justice Scalia, who believes that monotheism is historically preferred and Justice Thomas, who says the States can do what they want. These are spectacularly unpersuasive positions no one in public life is going to adopt.

The other politician who cannot get the new politics of religion right is Senator Obama. He has been the most aggressive Democrat going after religious voters, even organizing faith and politics groups. But he has repeated on several occasions the old liberal standby that when entering the public square, religious voters must eschew specifically religious language—they are not supposed to say God opposes gay marriage, for example.

But this is wrong for several reasons. Here are two. First, where in democratic theory or in first amendment theory do some people get to censor the language of the public square? If a majority of voters oppose gay marriage for religious reasons, why can’t they vote that way for that reason? They obviously can. And if they can vote for that reason, why are they not allowed to say they are voting for that reason? This suggestion is simple discrimination by secularists against the natural language of religious voters. Second, this discrimination comes from a candidate who makes campaign appearances in churches speaking the language of religion and then has his campaign send the speeches out on the Internet. In other words, Senator Obama drags the public square right into church for political advantage. All politicians do this. So who are they to tell us to cleanse our religious language when arguing politics?

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