The Role of Religion in American Politics

Tags: Separation of church and state in the United States, Separation of church and state, New Deal coalition

The Role of Religion om American Politics
As the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stipulates, ”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. This regulation represents one of the most important principles upon which the American democracy is built: the separation of church and state. Rhys H. Williams and N. J. Demerath III, the authors of the article ”Religion and Political Process in an American City”, however, raise the question that ”if our national political history is bulit on a religious-based morality – if we are a ’nation with the soul of a church’ – then why should government be excluded from religious affairs and churches have their political activities constrained?” According to their interpretation of this separation ”[i]ndividuals’ political commitments may be influenced by their religious beliefs (and vice versa), but religious groups and symbols are to be kept separate from political power and decision making.” Therefore it is conspicuous that the borderline between church and state must be blurred, all the more since one’s religious affiliation may determine his/her political commitments. Nevertheless, it does not seem to be obvious, to what extent these two factors are interrelated: Does religion influence civic participation? Are the Catholics or the Protestants more likely to be actively involved in politics? What effects (if any) does the relationship between church and state have on the civic participation of Latino minority communities?

The object of this essay is to examine what role religion plays in politics in the light of today’s (declining) civic participation, with special focus on the country’s Latino minority. As Robert D. Putnam points out, ”[b]y almost every measure, Americans’ direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and sharply over the last generation.” This (supposed) decline is only one of the major sociological changes...
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