We the People
France Griggs Sloat
As a means of continuing education, we asked several Xavier faculty: Should they mix? Should religion have a role in government or public policy? What limitations, if any, should be imposed? At what point does it cross the line of the First Amendment ban on the establishment of a state religion?
Here we talk to Gene Beaupré. You can find links to other profiles at the bottom of the page.
Director for Government Relations
I think an important distinction has to be made between values, even maybe moral values, and organized religion. There is no doubt that a government, especially like ours, is formed on anything less than some set of core values, and in some cases we use the pursuit of those values as justification for some pretty strong actions, like going to war. It becomes an issue when those values become institutionalized in some kind of organized religion that then begins to attempt to impose its system of the expression of those values into government. The most recent and very prominent example is the government intrusion into the Terri Schiavo case. Threaded throughout our system of laws is a high value placed on life. But where this particular debate seemed to pass over the line into religion was when nationally organized religious groups began to try to impose their particular will on public policy by encouraging the governor, the president and Congress to get involved.
What seems to have been occurring in the last decade about the influence of organized religion is a couple of things. Religious institutions have begun to organize and become politically visible, active and effective. They’re given credit for having influence over both electoral and legislative politics. They have become players in that game of electoral politics. I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with that. They’re another interest group out there influencing decisions. They’ve also had influence in legislative politics. They know how to get candidates elected, they know how to monitor and effect public policy. Thirdly is in the judicial branch where they feel the courts are making policy, not just interpreting laws, that their decisions have a significant impact on our culture and our values.
Religion does have a role, and I have a hard time finding a reason why they shouldn’t be part of the debate. That’s all they’re asking for. I guess if there’s a point at which their influence on electoral politics and policy-making actually infringes on someone else’s freedom of religion, that’s probably where they cross over. The clearest point of demarcation is if they’re imposing not their values but their religious beliefs, but how do you distinguish between them?
The Constitution tends to express itself through values. For many, those values are arrived at through a set of religious beliefs. I would say the framers saw the power religion could have on someone’s freedom of choice.
Thomas Kennealy, S.J.