Monday, August 8, 2011

Politics and Religion, Part 1

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...”

With those often misunderstood words, our constitution places restrictions on government and how it deals with religion. Contrary to what many seem to think, they impose no restrictions on religion or on voters. In fact the first amendment goes on to prohibit any restrictions on freedom of speech or the press – with no exception for religious speech or press. Everyone can speak freely and print freely, regardless of motivation. The constitutional restrictions are one-way. Government is restricted; churches and religion are not.

If any organization wants to take a political stand, it has a constitutional right to do so – and that is true whether that organization is a PTA, a business organization, or a church. They all have the same rights. Of course we can question the wisdom of any organization taking such a stand, but that is a different matter from the right to do so. If wisdom were required as a condition for speaking, our world would be a much quieter place.

Anyone has a right to speak, and the constitution does not question the motivation for that speech. That motivation may be altruistic or selfish, religious or secular but the right is still there. That right has been exercises repeatedly throughout our history.

Historically religion has been at the forefront of many changes in this country, from the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement. Churches inspired many to consider the inequity of holding other humans as chattel. Likewise many churches motivated people to fight against segregation and other forms of race-based discrimination. They had, and still have, that right. And in keeping with the idea of free speech they have the right to speak for other viewpoints as well.

Many today decry the “religious right,” implying that religious organizations have no right to speak about politics. Ironically, many of those same people are all for it when churches speak out in favor of tax-funded welfare, sanctuary for illegal aliens, or the discrimination known as affirmative action. If churches have a right to speak in favor of tax-funded welfare, they also have a right to speak against it. If they have a right to speak in favor of affirmative action, they also have a right to speak in favor of limited government.

There is no constitutional basis for restricting speech or the press. Church representatives have the same free speech rights as anyone else.

Nor does the first amendment prohibit citizens from considering religious values when casting their votes or in other political decisions. If a citizen opposes gambling, abortion, or anything else he has a right to do so. That right remains regardless of the reason for his politics. I'll discuss that further in my next blog.

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