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The United States of Ministry
By Denise Magditch

It is a vicious battle. Since the beginning, when the separation of church and state was written into the Constitution, the United States of America has quarreled over this fine line. Whether this division of opinion is over prayer in public schools, religious vouchers, or "faith-based" initiatives, there is clearly a rift between where religion can tread and where it cannot. The current administration has taken to this rift and clung to it, hoping to catch the votes of the pious and reign for another four years.

The United States of America was founded on the basic ideals of freedom. A citizen is able to live and work where they see fit, speak about what they wish and practice the religion, if any, to which they adhere. This is why the separation of church and state is so very important here in America: "the government will not endorse or oppose any particular religious viewpoint (or religion generally), and will not interfere with the right of citizens to practice their faith."1 If a person so chooses to follow a particular religion, they are free to do this. However, he or she must remember to refrain from imposing this religion upon others. What may be good for one person may not be good for another. The same idea applies to the government. Whatever spiritual affiliation, if any, an administration is a part of may be an important facet. This does not mean that they are allowed to use their position of power to enforce this affiliation. As Ron Reagan Jr. pointed out at his father's funeral, "Mr. Reagan was a religious man.....[but he] had 'never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians-wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage."2 It may be a beautiful thing to be religious or spiritual in any way. Using it to impress or imposing it upon others is not quite as beautiful.

Unfortunately, the current administration is marring the line between church and state and attempting to use religion to boost Bush's reelection campaign. Before and during his presidency, Bush made it clear which side of the religious fence he was on. He was "born again" after a drunk-driving incident in the 1970's, and currently begins his day with prayers and Bible readings. He also chooses his words carefully when speaking to the public. In his 2003 state of the union address, Bush mentioned the "wonder-working power" of the American people, a phrase taken from a popular revivalist hymn.3 When asked by a Washington journalist if he seeks advice from his father, George Bush Sr., he answered, "There is a higher father I appeal to."3

In addition to making his faith well-known, Bush and his administration look to make religion an important theme in the upcoming election. The election strategist, Karl Rove, plans to target the 4 million evangelicals who did not vote in the 2000 election. Rove has had mass emails sent out to church pastors, asking them to use the church for party organizing such as holding voter registration drives.3 The administration, meanwhile, is molding what it stands for to court the Christian voters while not pushing away the more secular ones. They have backed a ban on partial-birth abortions, which gives them good ground with those that harbor ill-will towards Roe v Wade. Simultaneously, since it is a highly controversial and pretty rare type of abortion, the part of the population that supports a woman's right to choose did not protest. The administration also backed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. The act states that an attack on an expectant mother and her unborn child counts as two separate crimes.2 Once again, the move is supported by those who seek to assault Roe v Wade, and not protested against, as most of the population sees the act as adequate punishment. In another attempt to woo the religious voter, the administration is giving federal funding to movements that encourage abstinence among young people and that promote "healthy marriages".2 From an objective standpoint, this placement of funds is at best a waste of money and at worst an invasion into the private lives of the people.

"Separation of church and state is the only principle that can ensure religious and philosophical freedom for all Americans."1 By catering to the religious right for votes, the Bush administration is undermining the United States Constitution. By infusing their politics with their faith, they are stripping the citizens of America of their basic freedoms. Our founding fathers escaped to this country because of religious persecution in their own, knowing that government efforts to "help" religion only end up hurting it. If only our current administration could realize this as well, America would remain free from religious persecution.


1 Quote from: www.au.org, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
2 Clare Murphy, BBC News, Bush's Faithful Balancing Act, 17 June 2004
3 Julian Borger, The Guardian, Bush Poll Campaign Courts Religious Right, 3 July 2004

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