Deadline Now: Religion and Politics
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Deadline Now: Religion and Politics

Friday, June 29 at 8:30 p.m.

Religion and politics. It's an issue as old as America itself. Does religion have a role to play in the political world? Should we be uncomfortable when clergy take political positions, or does that necessarily follow from what they believe? Is there any evidence of a government-sponsored "war on religion?"

This edition of "Deadline Now" explores the issue with the help of Reverend James Bacik, who recently retired after 50 years as a Roman Catholic priest, and Professor Benjamin Davis, an internationally-recognized legal scholar from the University of Toledo's College of Law.

Here are Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of "Deadline Now:"

I recently watched Gore Vidal’s magnificent 1964 movie "The Best Man," set during a national political convention. At one point an old politician remarks on how things have changed. “Back in my day, we had to pour God all over everything, like catsup,” he says.

That was in an era when a strict separation of religion and politics was considered enlightened. People thought that the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the nation’s first Roman Catholic president, was proof of this. Most Americans then belonged to mainstream, old-line Protestant or Roman Catholic Churches.

The Catholic Church seemed itself to be going through a period of modernization, as a result of what are usually referred to as the Vatican Two reforms. Islam was, as yet, an insignificant factor in American life. What we now think of as Christian fundamentalism was seen as being mainly rural, and on the wane.

Well, I suspect most of the public intellectuals and social scientists of half a century ago would be surprised and somewhat dismayed today. Once again, we are living in a time when some politicians seem to feel obligated to pour references to God into their speeches, pretty much like little boys do with catsup.

Communism has all but vanished as a political force, but the astonishing rise of Islamic fundamentalism has replaced it as the apparent major enemy of the American way of life.
However, at the same time, a recent poll showed that for the first time a majority of Americans would be willing to vote for an atheist for President, if they trusted his or her judgment and opinions on the issues. The resulting situation is complex, to say the least.

At this point, I feel I should declare my own religion, which is simply that knowledge is better than ignorance. There is a great deal of ignorance in this country about other religions than one’s own, and lots of nonsense being spread by the Internet.

The truth is that we are a fairly religious country, with a variety of widely differing faiths. But we have and need a secular government. Fifty-two years ago, John F. Kennedy reassured the nation that he would make his decision on any issue “without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. I do not speak for my church,” he said, “and my church doesn’t speak for me.”

Americans have always been morally informed by religion, but the founding fathers clearly did not intend for their government to be controlled by any faith. When it comes to discussing religion and politics, remembering that might be a good place to start.