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March 19, 2014 11:54 AM The Politicized Faithful

By Ed Kilgore

In a further meditation at Religion Dispatches on the disproportionate media attention given to conservative Christian political agitation (which she begins by absolving yours truly of blame for failing to note a national interfaith event on gun violence), Sarah Posner makes an important point about the role of the Republican Party in promoting the idea that being faithful means being conservative:

The religious right—as a political constituency, not as a religious one—is intentionally embedded in the Republican Party. Not only does the Republican Party depend on the votes of religious conservatives, it has gone out of its way to affirm their view of religion-based government and public policy. In its 2012 platform, for example, the party declares its support for public displays of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of “our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage,” school prayer, and “every citizen’s right to apply religious values to public policy.” When the religious right, then, seeks to apply its views to public policy and law, the GOP listens. What Establishment Clause?
The same is not true on the Democratic side, and it’s not, as is frequently asserted, because Democrats and liberals revile religion. It’s because (practically speaking) the Democratic base is far more religiously diverse than the Republican base, and includes a far more significant (and growing) number of unaffiliated voters, avowed secularists (who are both non-believers and religious people) and religious minorities. And because more of those people like the Establishment Clause and would shudder at religiously-directed public policy.

She also suggests that liberal religious believer are less likely to assert that their own views on political issues have an unambiguous divine sanction, pointing to a statement just issued by 46 religious leaders supporting the Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate. Here’s the key section of that statement:

No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on contraception, nor should government take sides on religious differences. We call on our government to respect the beliefs and values of everyone’s faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it.

Posner’s comment is illuminating:

That’s not just a dull pabulum statement about what “people of faith” believe. It’s a clear statement that what has been passed off by conservatives as a definitive conception of religious freedom does not reflect the religious views of all Americans, and that it may, in fact, infringe on the religious liberty of dissenting Americans. The anti-contraception mandate camp has claimed a monopoly on being the ones with the oppressed religious views. If for no other reason, these other, quite conventional religious views are important to cover. Not because they should dictate policy, but because they show how a singular religious view should not.

Paralleling President Obama’s argument in his 2009 Notre Dame commencement address that doubt is essential, not inimical, to religious faith, the statement of liberal believers on the contraception coverage mandate eschews a thundering assertion that “God is on our side” and respects the consciences of people who respect the consciences of others. Why, to cite the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, should the exotic belief of Hobby Lobby’s owners that an IUD is an “abortifacient” trump the belief of many of its employees that family planning is a moral good and that reproductive rights are essential to human dignity?

Ah, but these arguments just aren’t as media-friendly as the spectacle of believers backed by one of the country’s two major parties claiming that they can only obey the Will of God if that Will as they understand it is either the law of the land, or is reflected in a self-selected exemption form the law of the land. And so the politicized faithful get most of the ink.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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