The Role of Religion in American Politics

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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 that took place in the last few decades of the 20th century. An other one may be connected to a decline in religious fervor and church-going despite the fact that ”by many measures America continues to be […] an astonishingly ’churched’ society.” In addtion to this, changes can be observed in the social status (and thus to the political paricipation) of different religious groups, especially Protestants and Catholics. Backing this argument, Janny Scott and David Leonhardt draw attention to the fact that ”[r]eligious affiliation, too, is no longer the reliable class marker it once was.” Can these social phenomena be interrelated? It can be stated that the underlying changes in civic participation and those related to religious affiliation are sure to be related, since ”[r]eligious affiliation is by far the most common associational membership among Americans.” Consequently any change in its social composition or inclination to encourage church members to be actively involved in civic life result in changes in political participation thus in the relationship between church and state as well.

Regarding the general tendency in the political commitment of Catholics and Protestants back in the 1930s, while the former provided support for the Democratic party, ”mainline Protestant sects generally remained solidly Republican in their preferences during and after the New Deal era.” Jeff Manza and Clem Brooks’s examination of the reasons for the alterations taken place compared to this tendency is highly remarkable and necessary to mention for the sake of oncoming explanations. Manza and Brooks analyse whether conservative Protestants have moved away from the Democratic Party and realigned with the Democrats with the more liberal Protestants taking up a more neutral position, or whether Catholic voters (due to their growing economic affluence) have left the Democratic party in favor of the more conservative Republicans. It is interesting to examine the ethnic...
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