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Perry and Bachmann: Forgetting the Foundation of America

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John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, won the presidential election of 1960 in part because of his stance on the separation of church and state. In his speech, given at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in front of a mostly Protestant audience he stated, “I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.” Kennedy expressed his desire for a continued voter acceptance of politics being independent of religion . Today, however, many Republican candidates are using their own conservative religions as a political platform and, as a result, denouncing Kennedy’s speech, which is the very principle upon which the United States was founded . By blurring the lines between church and state Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann and their Republican constituents are opening themselves up to more scrutiny and questions regarding the idea that they are discriminatory about what they choose to believe within the bible based on their own personal and political agendas, namely LGBT rights.

Arguably, the most hot button topic in today’s ever-changing political arena is LGBT rights. This subject has reached the forefront of almost every political election over the past few years and is now at a boiling-over point with Republicans taking the anti-gay marriage stance and supporting their position by hiding behind their bibles. Gov. Rick Perry has even put forth the position of endorsing the beliefs of an anti-gay ministry called the American Family Association lead by Reverend Don Wildmon. Perry has taken an incredibly hard line against LGBT rights, basing his argument on the idea that the Bible states that a marriage is between a man and woman. However, when asked about his position on the death penalty, Perry is a strong supporter of the issue even though in that very same Bible there is a clear and precise quote that says, “Thou shalt not kill,” a perfect example of his selective religious ideologies.

Recently, Rep. Michele Bachmann was asked whether or not, if she won the presidential election, she would be submissive to her husband in office. This caused an outrageous amount of disgust around the United States. Yet, if taken in the context that it was intended, which was to ask her if she took into practice the bible quote, “Wives, submit to your husbands,” it is an entirely relevant question based on the fact that she has made her evangelical convictions the basis of her election campaign. When answering the question she artfully changed the biblical meaning of the word submissive by stating that it means “respect” but her interpretation of bible quotes in regards to LGBT rights remain literal and unbending. Bachmann has even gone as far as to say that public schools should endorse the Christian message that gay children “can run but they can’t hide” from her vindictive God and that they are part of Satan.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy spoke of the fear of persecution he faced being part of the Catholic diocese while running for president. He stated, “Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.” The citizens of the United States are now seeing this prophecy come true in today’s politics at a time of undeniable national turmoil. By bringing religion into their political endeavors Perry, Bachmann and many others are victimizing an entire group of people and in turn insulting the very basis of what this country stands for, religious freedom and tolerance of different beliefs.

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About Lo Aglow

  • John Lake

    You certainly write a controversial article. The constitution was concerned that religious officials might support this or that candidate from the pulpit; thus placing followers in a position of having to vote for the favored candidate, or to be in disagreement with their moral mentors. In an extreme situation the voter may feel compelled to vote for the specified candidate, or break his trust with the Creator. In is acceptable for a candidate for high office to mention his particular religious background, which should provide insight into his character, but for a candidate to indicate that he will make important decisions based solely on his personal religious conviction, ignoring pragmatic considerations, would to my thinking make the candidate unacceptable. Consider that a Protestant may be able to favor his higher views, but if an Islamic candidate favored Sharia law, he would incur considerable wrath.

    The authors of the constitution may have erred somewhat by assuming that candidates for high office in the new nation would have the highest possible standards and principles, and would keep their religion a private matter. A candidate stating a position on a legislative matter, making reference to applicable Bible passages, falls short of what the founders hoped for, and to some may seem irrational, or distracted. Legislators in early days were expected to keep in consideration that this nation is for all men, without regard to specific religion, even men who feel it best to remain uninfluenced by any religion.

    The death penalty can be discussed with a consideration of basic high regards for human life, and even with an awareness of human imperfection. If a legislator mentions the Bible, Okay; if he mentions Islamic law, he is in clear ethical violation.

    Bachman’s wish to make morality in gay children (I wonder does she mean gay experimentation, or all such experimentation?) part and parcel to the law of the land is intolerable. Psychology students and experts might tell us that early sexual curiosity in children is normal, and healthy. To consider making this normal childish groping illegal, or simply ‘wrong’ based on some limited interpretation of Christian scripture, completely ignores every fiber of our constitutional democracy, or evolved democracy. If a school brings a sense of guilt to normal children, for normal early experimentation, it is no longer a “public school”. If separation of church and state is a standard, then such thinking is anathema and untenable. If parents want their children to learn morality, or extreme morality, a church run school is the solution.

  • Baronius

    John, is that first paragraph right? I’m pretty sure that the ban on endorsing candidates from the pulpit goes back to 1954. It couldn’t go back much further because it’s related to tax-exemption under the federal tax code. I don’t remember anything about the Founders mentioning a barrier protecting the government from religion, only protecting religion from the government.

  • Baronius

    I guess my question ties into your second paragraph, too. The Founders were a disparate bunch, some Deists, some Anglican, some splinter groups that had moved to America for the right to worship loudly and publicly. Many weren’t shy about their religion. Religion has always been a public matter in America.

    I’d really like some citations for your take on the Founders, because it seems completely wrong to me.

  • John Lake

    Baronius:
    The founding fathers gave full credit to God for his support, and Franklin believed the new nation couldn’t come about without his help. The earliest preachers were more likely to advocate intolerance of England, than endorsement of specific candidates. In spite of Franklin’s ideas, many people at the time the Constitution was submitted to the public felt that God had been slighted, as there was “no recognition of his mercies to us . . . or even of his existence.” The federalists at that time felt the power to legislate religion should be in the hands of the states.
    As you say, Lyndon Johnson in 1954 passed the Johnson Amendment prohibiting pastoral endorsement of candidates, even subtly, using “code words.” His thinking was that pastors shouldn’t be allowed to discourage members of their congregation from voting based on pro-life or pro-abortion considerations.
    Getting back to the original document, there was a religious clause (article 6) that forbade religious tests for qualification to hold public office. The Continental-Confederation Congress as well as the Congress under the Constitution both sponsored programs supporting general nonsectarian religion.

    Here is something Thomas Jefferson said: “Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.”

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    I don’t remember anything about the Founders mentioning a barrier protecting the government from religion, only protecting religion from the government.

    Baronius, it’s right there in the First Amendment.

  • Baronius

    I keep rewriting this reply.

    I guess the big concept that I’m trying to get across is that an individual’s political beliefs are informed by his philosophy, which would be informed by his religion. An Enlightenment political philosopher would expect this.

    We may say that the First Amendment protects religion from government, and Article 6 protects government from religion. (Note that, Dread.) But nothing insulates the individual voter from acting according to his beliefs, and nothing prohibits the elected official from governing according to his philosophy. That’s where my “big concept” fits in.

    Kennedy represents a discontinuity in American thought. He said that not only was he unanswerable to an outside religious authority as an elected official, but also that his thinking was not informed by his personal religious beliefs. His lack of concern about philosophical consistency has become the basis for an internal separation of church and state: that is, the practice of not letting one’s beliefs get in the way of one’s actions.

    I’m having trouble reaching a conclusion to this comment. I guess I just want to prime the pump by noting that our thinking about the interplay between religion and politics would have been completely alien to the Founders.

  • John Lake

    Religion is more esoteric and mysterious than philosophy. One can easily believe that God created the world in 6 days, or several million years. A philosopher is more apt to believe that two wrongs don’t make a right. Or, that the end does or does not justify the means. If we stretch our philosophy (perhaps to the sticking point) to include some science, we can believe that the universe began with a big bang. But our religion tells us ‘twas God produced the bang.
    If we have beliefs on the duties and limits of government, that’s fine. Whether or not the governed were created by a fatherly figure, or an inexplicable combination of events in time and space, the rights of the citizen may be the same.
    I still hold that those speaking from the pulpit may be as manipulative and self-serving as anyone.
    On a separate note (deriving from this discussion of the people and groups who influence popular thinking) I would ordain that all media outlets be free of any ownership, allegiance, or monetary ties to any organization that advocates anything. Such is not the case.
    So, on the broad issue, John Kennedy becomes my hero! Who needs a leader who acts according to unproven and irrational speculation? The value of human life, combined with the role of government is all we need.

  • Baronius

    The value of life and the role of government. Lots of things can go wrong in the process of getting the answers to those two questions, and not just in theory, either – in practice as well. There’s nothing wrong with marking down a candidate’s grade for not showing his work. I want to know how he got his answers.

    Anyway, it doesn’t change the fact that the founders of our country didn’t think about church and state issues as this article or comment #1 depict. The founders quoted scripture more than they did Locke, the Greek or Roman philosophers. Call the new way better if you feel like it, but don’t confuse it with the original.

  • http://judefolly.com jude folly

    we’re not called the united states of amnesia for nothing. lots of focus naturally fixes upon perry and bachmann because they are running for president. it would be worth noting that they represent a significant constituency, size-wise, in this country whose education, intelligence and mental bearing i cannot begin to account for.

    the division that presides over our nation gives new meaning to john edwards’s “two americas” narrative. in this case, one america that is sceptical of ecclesiastical authority, believes in justice and mutuality (‘we’re in this togther’) among all citizens. the other america clings to a way of life that arguably never existed (sweet nectar of nostalgia), insists that “you’re on your own” and asserts the primacy of an unrestrained, unaccountable market. rather than simply watching the demolition derby that has become the presidential primary, we would better served to discuss the how and why of our country’s current divided condition.

  • Clavos

    whose education, intelligence and mental bearing i cannot begin to account for.

    In my opinion, that pretty much applies to ALL the people who call themselves americans.

    Not for nothing are americans pretty much looked down upon as ignoramuses by the peoples of most of the other developed nations.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I think you just answered the question as to “our country’s current divided condition.”