Religion, Politics, and American Foreign Policy in the Middle East

By Sedler, Robert A. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Religion, Politics, and American Foreign Policy in the Middle East


Sedler, Robert A., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


I. Introduction: Religion and Politics in the United States

In order to understand the relationship between religion and politics in the United States, we must first understand the importance of religion in American life. By every measure, such as church membership, contributions to religious organizations, and as I will discuss shortly, religious-based positions on public issues, Americans appear to be more religious than their counterparts in other western democracies. (1) The churches may be empty in England, France, Italy and other western

European countries, but they are full every Sunday in the United States. So are Jewish synagogues Friday evening and Saturday morning, Islamic mosques on Friday, and Buddhist and Hindu temples whenever they hold services. Religious freedom is a highly protected constitutional value in the United States, (2) and the strong constitutional protection of religious freedom may have contributed to some extent to the religiousness of the American people today. (3) In any event, we are, as Supreme Court Justice William Douglas observed some 60 years ago, and as is equally true today, "a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." (4) In recognition of this religiousness, the American President typically ends a major speech with " God Bless the United States of America," and many other public officials frequently invoke God in their speeches as well. (5) In the United States today then, religion is very important to large numbers of Americans, and for this reason religion would be expected to play an important role in American politics. (6)

The important role of religion in American politics is reflected first in the fact that religious adherents and religious institutions try to advance their religious beliefs and their religious values through political activity. Their right to do so is protected by the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and religious freedom, and I would submit that religious people and religious institutions are acting in accordance with constitutional values when they try to advance their religious beliefs and values through political activity. Just as other citizens should lobby Congress and their state legislatures to advance their agendas, religious adherents and religious institutions should urge Congress and state legislatures to adopt laws that advance their religious beliefs, such as advocating for laws prohibiting abortion or laws allowing abortion, or advocating for laws imposing the death penalty or advocating for abolition of the death penalty, Similarly religious adherents should support what they consider to be a "just war" under their religious beliefs, or should oppose any or all wars if their religious beliefs condemn war as involving the killing of human beings. And likewise, religious adherents and the clergy should urge voters to vote for those candidates who support their religious-based positions on issues of public policy. In short, in the American constitutional system, religious adherents and religious institutions have the constitutional right to advocate for public policies that advance their religious beliefs and to urge voters to vote for candidates that will support those public policies. Similarly, it comes within the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion for members of the clergy to remind their adherents of the tenets of their faith, and to contend that, as a matter of religious belief, their adherents should support or oppose certain public policies and should vote for candidates who support or oppose those policies. (7)

For the same reasons, it is appropriate for candidates for public office to seek the support of religious groups--as they seek the support of any other group--on the ground that they support the policies advocated by particular religious groups. It is appropriate for candidates for public office to seek the support of Catholics and fundamentalist Christians on the ground that the candidates oppose abortion or same-sex marriage or stem cell research involving embryos. …

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