More Religion in Politics? New Poll’s Findings May Be Overhyped

A day after headlines heralding Americans’ desire for more religion in politics and public life, the citizenry’s wish has been granted. A quick scan of national newspapers shows many religious and moral concerns in today’s news mix: declining marriage rates, civil disobedience, climate change, racial justice in Ferguson and stopping ISIS at the border—just to name a few.

But since most of these issues were also in the news the day before the new Pew survey (and the day before that and the day before that too) it’s hard to see the 300+ articles—proclaiming everything from “Americans fear religion losing influence, say churches should speak out more” to “More Americans want religion in the politics”—as anything more than sociological clickbait.

News outlets are playing the culture war card because the fight over religion’s role in politics is second only to naked nubile actresses in arousing public attention.

Do more Americans want religion in politics and public life? A careful look at the survey shows yes, some do—mainly religious people, and the more religious, the greater desire for public engagement with religion. Of course we then have to ask: whose religion? According to another Pew poll on the popularity of different faiths, Americans had warmest feelings for Jews. With the Day of Atonement in less than two weeks, Americans could proactively start repenting on any number of fronts. That would lead to lots more religion in public life and probably an uptick in its political guises, too.

But seriously, even though many news outlets used the Pew numbers more for titillation than information, there were some intriguing, if underreported, findings in and implied by the survey.

First is the deep division among Republicans about whether their party is too religious or not religious enough. That split is echoed in the split between the Tea Party and less sectarian GOP’ers. If that chasm isn’t healed, Republicans midterm electoral chances could be hindered.

The second takeaway is Americans’ media illiteracy—or maybe just their short attention span. Just three months ago, the US Supreme Court extended first amendment protection for the free exercise of religion to privately held corporations. The Hobby Lobby decision exemplifies the active role of religion in American public life as well as its intermingling—insofar as it challenged the president’s Affordable Care Act—in politics.

Bottom line? Even with the country’s tilt to a younger, more racially diverse, less religiously affiliated populace, there’s no reason to think that religiously conservative old white guys and their issues are endangered.

Note: Listen to Diane Winston’s radio interview on this topic on L.A.’s KPCC. —Eds.

  • Rmj

    The Supreme Court did NOT extend 1st Amendment protections to closely held corporations. It held that such corporations could have religious “feelings” that are protected under RFRA, a statute. The difference is neither subtle nor insignificant, and it’s a bit ironic if you are using Burwell as an example of how the American public suffers from “media illiteracy.”

  • Frank6548

    Hard to see that this writer understands anything at all.

  • cgosling

    World history has demonstrated the folly of mixing religion with politics. The writers of our constitution got it right with the separation of church and state. Beware of those politicians who want the USA to be a Christian state.

  • Albert Nygren

    Actually the Constitution has nothing in it saying there must be separation of church and state. The Constitution says that, “Congress shall pass no law regarding the establishment of religion. If you look up the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” you will see that this word and the word “establishment itself have to do with the creation of a State Church which is common in Europe. The term “separation of Church and state” was In one of the writings of “Thomas Jefferson” and I recently learned that the Supreme Court, according to certain “legal philosophies” don’t have to go strictly by what our Constitution states. It can go to the writings of the our “founding fathers” to also use to make their decision. The Constitution doesn’t give the Supreme Court that authority but the Supreme Court does it anyways,

  • Albert Nygren

    The Catholic Church recognizes Protestant marriages as valid sacraments and therefore valid marriages. Also the Catholic Church rules are if a person is married and gets a divorce they are not allowed to marry again unless they get an annulment. So the Catholic Church sees you as still married to your previous husband unless you get an annulment. That’s why you need an annulment before you can marry someone else if you become Catholic after your civil divorce.

  • cgosling

    Albert N – Thanks for explaining my favorite 6th grade word, antidisestablishmentarianism, at that time supposedly the longest word in the dictionary. You noted correctly that the founders of our nation took care not to allow any one church (religion) to have undue influence on the government. The position of the founding fathers concerning religion is quite evident if you have read Jefferson, Paine, Madison, Adams, etc. To disregard their intent, as SCJ Scalia always does should b a crime. Admittedly, their job is difficult and controversial. Should they make judgements according to what they think the founder’s original intent was, or should they interpret it to fit modern needs? Obviously the court usually makes judgements according to their own personal biases, including their religious beliefs, which I believe is inherently wrong and dangerous to the nation. In order not to favor Christianity and disfavor other belief systems, judges must be selected who don’t have the need to favor Christianity. Moral principals need not be exclusively derived from religion.

    Where the preamble declares, that: coercion is a departure from the plan “False religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time have been maintained through the church-state. To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propaganda of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” No citizen “shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever”

    -Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia
    Statue

    Jefferson spoke clearly: “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr.Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

    “[T]hat no man
    shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or
    ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief: but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil 
capacities.”

    Thomas Jefferson, The Statute of Virginia for Religious
    Freedom, enacted on January 16, 1786

    I could go on. There is no doubt that government needs protection from religion, and religion needs protection from other religions. The US is certainly not a Christian nation, and if it were, which brand of Christianity would it be? Wars have been are and being fought over the minor differences in religion’s holy books.

    What we need is new Supreme Court Justices without religious bias.

  • Albert Nygren

    Thank you for your excellent comment! I generally agree with you except that I would suggest that Judeo/Christian legal principals might be better than Muslim Sharia law where they kill people and cut their hands for behaving in a way contraire to Sharia. Right now there are 4 accepted legal principals that Supreme court Judges are allowed to use to make decisions (I won’t go in to them). What is the matter with not interpreting something in the Constitution at all? When I was a youngster the accepted USA general principles of law actually contained in the Constitution was that a law can not be written if it is so vague as to not have a clear meaning. The idea that a law can be interpreted by a judge as to what it means, changes our country from a Democracy where laws are enacted by our legislative representatives and signed by the President into an Oligarchy where we are ruled by a group of largely un elected people. The original intention of the Constitution is that provisions in the Constitution are clear and need no interpretyation, Tha