Viewpoint: America needs separation of religion and politics

By Caroline Brewton
Copy editor

As children, we sat in our elementary school classrooms and learned about the great American melting pot. We derive many things in our country from members and traditions of many other nations.

And yet, over the past few centuries, it seems that we’ve been busy grounding down all of these differences to form our own distinctly American identity. Chinese cuisine in America has come to reflect American preferences. Olde English has become an American dialect in our mouths. And American politics are unique on the world stage.

As a nation, we have overcome dark periods in our own history that produced war, slavery, racial injustice. We have become open to discussing issues that, 50 years ago, would never have been raised.

This progress, though, has led to a host of emerging problems that threatens to tear us apart, issues that lawmakers grapple with on a daily basis. We have become more open, yes, and less homogenized. We have become loud.

And so we are fighting a new battle. Our American culture is becoming common in some areas, but issues of religion continue to divide us. Many issues seen as “religious” have also become political because religion often determines morality.

This is our problem. We have confused morality with legality.

As Americans, we must navigate carefully between morality and legality. The purpose of morality is to guide personal growth and help us become “good” people. The purpose of legality is to govern the population of a country.

Morality and legality do not have to be opposites. Most major world religions would agree the prohibition of murder, theft or rape in American laws is a moral triumph, but we must walk a fine line.

By accepting any moral system into legality, we run the risk of alienating other moral systems that might be just as valid, although different from our own. Because we are a diverse society, no homogenous American morality unites us.

No one religious moral system must come to dominate another by influencing our laws, no matter how closely we hold our beliefs.

Can we celebrate our differences in religion while still remaining a united people? I think we can. The first step is to maintain secular legislation and encourage an open-minded society that accepts all religions. Upholding a citizen’s right to “privacy” is essential to this cause. Privacy is the lynchpin between morality and legality. And it is in privacy where moral decisions must be made.

This upcoming presidential election is our chance to draw a line in the sand between a fair and just government and a government that swings toward the dictates of one school of thought to the detriment of all, and it is perhaps the best example of how this struggle has come to influence America.

The Republican primaries are rife with religious issues, featuring candidates like Rick Santorum, who many Americans hope will bring conservative Christian values to the White House if he is elected. Or Mitt Romney – many believe his Mormon faith will harm him in the eyes of constituents. Or Newt Gingrich, whose infidelities, though deplorable, are a moral and not a legal issue.

Remember this in the political battles that will accompany this election. If we want to continue to be taken seriously as a nation on an international stage, we must divorce the politics of religion from American legal politics. Don’t vote for a Catholic candidate or a Mormon candidate or a divorced candidate. Vote for a candidate who will better serve America.

We are living in an increasingly global and pluralistic society. It’s time to start thinking that way.

Caroline Brewton is a sophomore journalism major from Beaumont and is a copy editor for the Lariat.