Religion Influences American Politics And Public Policy

November 8, 2011
Written by Janice S. Ellis... in
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What or who benefits in the separation of church and state? Photo Credit:

Whenever it is convenient or serves some political purpose, we are reminded that the “separation of church and state” is an important aspect of our Republic. But is it? Has it ever been?

There are those who would like to believe it, advocate it, and even act upon this notion. But a close look at the history of this country shows that God and religion have always been present and promulgated.

God and religion were an integral part of colonial life and remains so in the 21st Century. Fundamental to the lasting association of religion and state is that our founding fathers were seeking freedom from religious oppression. We reference God in our country’s most sacred documents, from the Declaration of Independence to our Pledge of Allegiance. There is a reference to God imprinted on our currency and in the verses of some of our most patriotic songs.

Religion or the church, in the eyes of most Americans, remains a viable and needed force in our daily lives, in so many areas, in so many ways.

Has their ever been an election in recent history where religion, “the church,” has not wielded influence? Whether it is the evangelical Christians, the religious right, the Vatican, or some other faith-based group, we cannot deny the influence of religion in this country. And, such influence could not be more evident than in issues such as abortion and homosexuality. Those two issues alone seem to influence the actions of religious groups on the public or political stage more than any other — more than the scourge of war, hunger, and other human conditions.

While at some level in the public policy arena, the separation of church and state is a positive and productive position, so is the strategic alliance and partnership. The “Faith-Based Leadership Initiative” that began during the George W. Bush administration recognized the value in eliciting such a credible community institution to address some of the most pressing issues, particularly in poor minority communities across the country.

The primary goal of the Faith-Based Leadership Initiative is to research and develop recommendations and implement focused strategies for the formation of significant alliances designed to revitalize and strengthen ethnic communities in blighted and economically depressed urban areas. Members of the clergy appeal to professionals in the areas of health, education, and economic development to come together and begin a dialogue on the very areas that define the quality of life.

In addition to the founding fathers, historically, many religious and church leaders have led the movements that resulted in political, economic, educational, and social change. We have only to think of St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Charlemagne, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis of Assisi. To bring it closer home, we have had Adam Clayton Powell, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jessie Jackson, and countless others who have made a difference in their own communities, if not, indeed the nation.

Wailing against abortions and gay marriages should not be what defines the influence and impact of religion and the church in the contemporary public policy arena. The church, its leaders, and members, are doing much more to shape, influence, and enact public policy. So many spend great portions of their days, and nights, trying to make the lives of the neglected and downtrodden better — efforts to improve housing, reduce crime, spur economic development.

Separation of church and state? Why not forge a stronger alliance to tackle those stubborn problems that plague communities all across this nation, whether in the area of quality educational achievement, reduction in blight and crime, or the stimulus for much-needed economic development?

The influence of the church is ever present; why not take advantage of its fullest potential?