For Immediate Release
March 30, 2006
The Role of Religion in American Politics
Thursday, March 30, 2006--Dr. David Sanders, Democratic candidate for U.S.
representative for the 4th Congressional District of the State of Indiana,
discussed the role of religion in politics at 10:00 AM, Tuesday, March 30, 2006
at the Tippecanoe County Democratic Headquarters, 320 Main Street in Lafayette.
He was the 2004 Democratic nominee for U.S. Representative for the 4th
Congressional District of the State of Indiana having won a contested primary.
He began by asking for a moment of silence to remember the Americans who
have died or been wounded serving their country in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“There is substantial discussion of the role that religion should play in
American society and politics. In a country when a large proportion of
residents profess a religious faith, it is obvious that religion will have a major influence on people’s lives.
Religious faith can provide a powerful and positive motivation in the political
life of a nation. Religious faith played a prominent role in this country in
the movements to abolish slavery and to promote civil rights and equality for
Americans regardless of race. Unfortunately, religion was also used by some
individuals as a tool to justify the enslavement of Americans of African descent
and the segregation of the races in the public sphere.
“It is fitting to begin with the words of the First Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
We have two key concepts—the “establishment” clause and the “free exercise”
clause, both of equal weight. Please note that there is no basis in the
Constitution for the “freedom of religion” vs. “freedom from religion” dispute.
Neither phrase is used.
It is therefore appropriate to ask,
“What is the role of religion in American politics and government?
“What should be the objectives of a person who possesses religious faith in the
American political sphere?
“America has been a demonstration of the historical concept that authentic
religious faith flourishes when it is not coerced. It is a manifestation of the
benefits of forbidding governments from dictating the religious beliefs and
practices of its citizens. The balance between the two concepts enshrined in
the United States Constitution has been critical for the expression of the rich
diversity of religious faith and practice that is one of the great strengths of
America. It can be concluded that both religion and America have much to lose
by the exploitation of the coercive power of government for the promotion of the
doctrines of a particular religious group or groups.
“Religious faith is often based upon received authority. A democratic form
of government on the other hand must be based upon challenging the pronouncements of those in power. America was
founded on the basis of resistance to authority. Political decisions must be
based upon evaluation of the evidence and not upon the reliance upon the
authority of those who profess a religious faith that is similar to one’s own.
“Americans must also recognize that there are many Americans who profess no
religious faith. Their commitment to the pursuit of the path dictated by their
own reason and experience deserves no less respect than the commitment of others
to their religious faiths. Political attacks on those who have made such a
choice are no less odious than attacks on individuals who hold particular
“Many people who profess religious belief ask, “How will I be judged as an
individual and how will America be judged as a society?”
“There are individuals who disrupt military funerals and people who share
their beliefs who insist that America will be judged on whether we controlled
the ways that people express personal intimacy. They believe that America must
regulate people’s most private decisions. I do not agree with them.
“America will be judged on whether we aided the widow and the fatherless.
America will be judged on whether we fed the hungry, housed the homeless, and
healed the sick. America will be judged on how the stranger in our midst is
treated. It is wrong for the Republican Congress and our incumbent Congressman
to criminalize the activities of religious organizations who are trying to
fulfill their religious obligations to aid immigrants. We will be judged on
whether we recall that, with the exception of descendants of the pre-Columbian
inhabitants of this continent, we were all at one times strangers here.
“America will be judged on whether it treasured the divine gift of our
land, air, and water. America will be judged on whether it selfishly used up
its economic and natural resources and left our descendants impoverished.
America will be judged on how it educated its children. America will be judged on whether it valued the
contributions of its elderly. America will be judged on whether the rich were
allowed to exploit the poor. America will be judged on whether justice for all
was pursued. America will be judged on whether truly seeking peace was our
objective. We will be judged on how we treated our enemies.
“We will be judged as individuals on whether we saw that divine spark in
each of our fellow man or woman. In the political sphere, it is not right for a
person professing a particular religious faith to insist that it makes him or
her a better person than someone else. He or she should insist only that the
world be made a better place.”
A graduate of Yale University and the University of California at
Berkeley, Dr. Sanders conducted research at UCSF and the Whitehead Institute
(affiliated with M.I.T.) before joining the Department of Biological Sciences at
Purdue University where he is now an Associate Professor. David Sanders’ three boys, Honi, Akiva, and Yinnon Sanders attend the West Lafayette public