Center for American Progress

Religion, Policy and Politics: The Rules of Engagement
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Religion, Policy and Politics: The Rules of Engagement

The Rules of Engagement

Religion is often engaged with American policymaking and politics. Policy choices are based on values and, for many citizens, values are rooted in faith. American campaigns are essentially processes whereby political candidates introduce themselves personally to voters; for many candidates, this involves some explanation of their religious identities and convictions. Congregations are communities with sacred missions, but at times they also serve as springboards for the formation of some of the most active, organized and enduring citizen networks dedicated to policy change.

The fact that religion, policy and politics are inevitably engaged in our country, however, does not mean that they should be engaged indiscriminately. Indiscriminate engagement would do great violence to our cherished national commitment to religious freedom, for example, by permitting a majority faith to seize the reigns of political power and to use that power to coerce those outside the faith to fall in line with majority beliefs and practices. Furthermore, while legal rules are necessary to protect national values, legal rules alone are insufficient to guard against many of the dangers that arise in this area. When religion and politics intersect, there is a tendency, for example, for religion to be transformed from a spiritual force committed to non-political principles and methodologies to simply another earthly political power. Thus, this intersection must be mediated not only by law, but also by ethical and religious principles.

In short, there are and should be rules for the engagement of religion, policy and politics. This essay first briefly describes some relevant legal principles, and then goes beyond these legal principles to explore additional ethical and religious rules of engagement.

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