My view: Religion in politics getting tiresome

By Steve Warren

Published: Monday, Nov. 30 2009 12:17 a.m. MST

Recent articles in the Deseret News warned of efforts to push religion out of the public square. Freedom of religion, we were told, is under attack in America.

In my view, religious freedom is proliferating as never before, and involvement of religion in American public life has never been greater.

Religion, seemingly, is everywhere. It's all over the Internet, TV and radio. Several local TV channels, for example, offer LDS-oriented programs. One station even has an anti-LDS show anchored by a smiling ex-Mormon. Other channels feature energetic preachers who say, in effect, "Send money." Ministers pop up often on talk shows and the news.

We see faith messages on bumper stickers and signs. Most homes I enter have something religious hanging from the walls or perched on mantels, shelves or tables. A few years back, the Utah Legislature even mandated that public schools place "In God we trust" signs in their buildings.

Here's a question for News readers: Aren't you tired of all the religion in today's politics?

We've always had politicians who were grandstanders for Jesus, but when I was growing up, the church-state mix seemed less overt. Yes, Kennedy had to promise in 1960 that he wouldn't take orders from the pope. But I don't recall George Romney's LDS faith being a hindrance in 1967 when he raced to the front of the Republican presidential pack. Instead, he was done in for being right too soon about the wrongness of the Vietnam War.

In the past presidential race, religion stood front and center: Obama's pastor, the usual acrimony on abortion, born-again preacher Mike Huckabee's polarizing comments, Obama labeled a Muslim, Mitt Romney forced to defend his beliefs, the religious right working to defeat Romney, pastor Rick Warren interviewing Obama and McCain and the media playing up religious conflict. Also, religion might have played a part in Brother Romney's 90 percent to 5 percent win over Brother McCain in Utah's GOP primary.

Religion has pushed aggressively into the public square in the form of Moral Majority, the religious right and individual denominations pursuing agendas. A few years ago, a friendly federal government began to provide funds for certain social programs sponsored by faiths.

People who target churches with vandalism and over-the-top anger do not endanger religious freedom. Instead, reasonable Americans sympathize with those who are targeted and believers often wear persecution as a badge of honor.

Some say that religious liberty is threatened when Ten Commandments plaques are removed from government buildings or when public entities cease to offer prayers. In my view, removing plaques and prayers increases religious liberty. It means that a person is free to believe or not believe without government telling him that believing is the norm.

As a Christian, I need no heavy-handed hints from government about whether to believe or what to believe. I don't even believe everything my own church teaches.

Churches would be wise to acknowledge that the resentment directed at them for their incursions into the public arena doesn't stem only from their favored tax-exempt status. It also is connected to the quite reasonable perception that religions by their very nature can command zealous participation and financial support that other organizations can only dream of. Moreover, many who enter the public square to push a religious agenda do not seem blessed with the ability either to compromise or to respect their opponents' intentions. Too often, Christian soldiers go to battle armed with myths and misinformation. As a result, they exacerbate the divisiveness of today's U.S. politics.

If faiths continue orchestrating forays into the public arena, they should recognize that the way they espouse a cause may be as important as the cause itself. They certainly should not presume that pushback means that religious freedom is under attack.

Steve Warren is a former member of the Deseret News copy desk.

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