Church and State: Inseparable Entities
With Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination has come a flurry of questions regarding the future of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in the United States. Those who believe that abortion should be banned nearly always do so because of their religious beliefs. In the fight to preserve abortion rights, many have raised the argument that these religious narratives should not influence our laws—we need a separation of church and state. In reality, however, these two topics (religion and politics) cannot be kept from one another. Religion has always been integrated into American politics as it largely defines morality and colors decision-making throughout the United States. The United States is predominantly a religious country: 65 percent of voting adults identify with one of the Christian sects, and still more identify with other religions. One’s faith is deeply personal and often serves as a part of our moral compass—a way of distinguishing what is right and wrong. Consequently, people support laws that uphold their morals or belief system. This much has been true throughout history and is unlikely to change now. Thus, while we may want to separate church and state, it is simply impossible to do so.
Advocates for the separation of church and state often cite the First Amendment to support their argument. Indeed, the Establishment Clause sanctioned in 1791 explicitly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Yet in reality, the Establishment Clause was included to prohibit the creation of state-sponsored churches like the Church of England. It was never meant to erase religion’s influence on political life or decisions altogether. The framers who wrote this constitution were deeply religious men—for example, George Washington was an Episcopal who was incredibly active in the religious community and John Adams was even described as a ‘church going animal.’ In the 1700s, religion was deeply embedded in society, and people nearly always turned to religion as a moral guide for all aspects of life. Thus, it is unlikely that the framers were advocating for a complete separation of church and state in this clause. Religion was a key part of American society and decision-making back then, and the same is true for today.
In reality, religion still defines many of our decisions, including political ones. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 53 percent of Americans said that they are more likely to vote for a president that believes in God. This ‘faith card’ is essential to winning the White House. Many voters feel that a politician’s religious beliefs are proof of their moral virtues and signify that they are able to make good decisions. People can also further relate to the politician if their ways of telling apart right and wrong are the same. In 2004, the one reason why John Kerry lost the presidential election was because he was unable to convey that he was a person of faith to the American people. In the 1970s, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan used Evangelicals to boost their campaign. Indeed, renowned historian Bruce Schulman has said that this religious factor shapes “the entire presidential election process.” In 2016, the Republican Party, spearheaded by Donald Trump, played the “faith card” in an attempt to deflect attacks on his character and morality—they made sure to include Mike Huckabee (an ordained Southern Baptist minister), Ted Cruz (the son of a minister), and Ben Carson (the son of a minister) in the Trump campaign in order to do so. Thus, throughout history and in the present, religion has often defined who is elected to a position of power.
Consequently, those we elect to power, whether they be the president or a member of Congress, are the ones who enact our laws or appoint Supreme Court Justices who determine the validity of our laws. The United States is not a full democracy; rather, it is a democratic republic. As citizens, we elect people who represent our interests to make legislative decisions for us. Thus, if we elect a person whose religious beliefs oppose abortion, we cannot expect them to support legislation that legalizes abortion. By allowing religion to determine our voting patterns, we allow it to determine our legislation.
It is simply impossible to separate religion from politics. Religion has been included in our political system since the beginning, and it still determines many of our political decisions. This does not only apply to Christianity—though it is the predominant religion in the United States, every faith has the power to influence politics. Ultimately, try as we might to separate church and state from each other, they will remain intertwined.