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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Religion and government must not mix in America, say experts

Senior academics in the United States have stressed that separation of church and state in public life is essential to ensure that U.S.citizens retain their civil liberties.

Speaking at an event entitled ‘Is America a Christian Nation?’ organised by the National Press Club, historian and lawyer John Ragosta said that if the U.S. was a Christian nation, it would not have received the support that it has from people of other religious faiths. Despite the fact that American citizens are more religious than those of any other developed nations, he said, religion must remain separate from secular government in the United States.

Jamie Raskin, director of the Law and Government Program at American University‘s School of Lawand also a Maryland state senator, noted that the Constitution allows people to follow whichever religion they desire, but that government should make its decisions based on logic and science. He noted that it may be accurate to label America a Christian nation in a demographic sense, but such a definition extended to constitutional law would destroy secular traditions developed over 200 years.

Theologian John Kinney pointed out that people today are using God to push their political and social agendas. “When we are dragging religion into politics, then we are not searching for truth, but we do it to support our agenda in order to preserve our position, so the necessity for separation of church and state is essential” he said.

Meanwhile, as the American 2012 Presidential race gets into full swing, a new survey shows that American voters like their presidents to have religious faith, and a faith more or less like their own.

The American Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that two thirds (67 percent) of respondents said that it is either very important (39 percent) or somewhat important (28 percent) that candidates have a strong faith. However, nearly one in five (19 percent) said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who had strong religious beliefs different from their own.

The survey shows that religion plays a large part in how people vote. The candidates who would have the least chance of winning an election would be those with no religion. Respondents said they were most uncomfortable with a either a Muslim (64 percent) or an atheist (67 percent).

The full survey can be downloaded a here (pdf).

Published Fri, 11 Nov 2011