The Religion of Politics: The Unity of Church and State

At the beginning of the month, President Obama appeared at the National Prayer breakfast in Washington D.C where he openly talked about the role Christianity plays in his politics; tying his federal policies to his view of Christian values.

Unfortunately, this kind of religious rhetoric can easily be seen in the American sphere of politics today. As the republican candidates battle it out for the upcoming election season, religion more and more seems to be brought into the political spotlight. And with candidates such as Newt Gingrich accusing the current administration of “waging war on religion,” it’s no wonder Obama is choosing to play up the religious card now.

But does religion belong in politics?

The separation of church and state, a phrase coined by founding father Thomas Jefferson, seems to have taken a back seat in politics today. Religion, it appears, is being used as a political tool to garner votes and gain support. And with an ever-growing number of Christian votes across the country, it seems Christianity is being advertised as the religion of politics.

And with that comes the criticisms of religions that don’t fit the bill.

First there is presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s outright declaration of Christianity as the faith of equality and freedom:

“Where do you think this concept of equality comes from?” Santorum asked while on campaign in North Carolina. “It doesn’t come from Islam. It doesn’t come from Eastern religions. It comes from the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

(For a response from CAIR on Santorum’s misguided statement, see: CAIR to Santorum: Christians, Jews, Muslims Worship the Same God)

And then there’s Gingrich’s attack on the Islamic faith by spreading fear of sharia law as an internal threat to the U.S.:

“We should have a federal law that says sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States,” Gingrich said at a Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. “No judge will remain in office that tried to use sharia law.”

Gingrich even went so far as to produce a film warning of the dangers of what he calls radical Islam and the threat of sharia law within the United States – despite the fact that as a religious minority, American-Muslims comprise less than two percent of the general population.

On the contrary, it seems as though the only voices shouting for religion to be mixed with politics comes from the very candidates warning against the dangers of sharia law.

In one interview, Santorum is quoted as saying that his problem with sharia law is that it’s “not just a religious code. It is also a governmental code. It happens to be both religious in nature and origin, but it is a civil code.”

And yet, this is the same candidate who believes, “our civil laws have to comport with a higher law: God’s law.”

American politicians have been employing the age-old tool of fear mongering for centuries to gain the popular vote while attacking policies they view as a threat to their own agendas. But when politicians like Gingrich and Santorum turn away from politics and start on religion, they begin attacking the social values and the very identity of many religious Americans, particularly of those who fall out of these politicians’ exclusive Christian views.

And as for all this talk of returning to American values and the visions of our forefathers, maybe our politicians would do well to go back and read that one little paper created by those very forefathers that guarantees our right to practice whatever religion we choose and keep it out of politics.