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 John Cooper. You can find links to other profiles at the bottom of the page.
Director for Graduate Services; Theology Instructor
I think the founding fathers were trying to escape a situation where the government said you had to be of a certain religion. But I don’t think they were attempting to separate someone’s faith and their conscience from decisions they make in public life. Your faith should be reflected in the work you do.
I felt as though John Kerry was privatizing his faith by saying that his church believes that abortion was wrong and personally he was not advocating abortion, but he didn’t feel he could impose his faith on the community especially in an elected position. That’s too simplistic because we are our faith, and who we are and what we believe is always impacting the community. To simply say that he didn’t feel he could impose an article of his religion on Supreme Court justice selections is too simplistic. On the other hand, I feel like George Bush in his discussion about the issue ran the other risk of not balancing the approach saying that my private faith is what everyone should have. There’s a balancing act that I didn’t see either candidate doing.
I would say there’s a distinction between religion and faith, that faith is something that begins with the individual. Then you go to the realm of religion. Most of us tend to take that belief system and follow it, like Catholicism, so I would say that yes, faith does play a part in our political and public life and to deny that is overly simplistic. If I’m a politician and I have to vote on a Supreme Court nominee, I don’t believe that I’m imposing my religion on others if I say I don’t support this nominee for a number of reasons and one of those reasons is based on my faith.
But on the flip side it would be wrong for me to introduce a bill that everybody should be Catholic in the U.S. What Republicans are doing in Congress in response to what they believe are judges imposing their beliefs in the courtroom, I think that it’s not about making sure that judges are Christian or are Muslim, it’s about a dialogue that gets people in touch with the fact they are making decisions based on values. That’s the disagreement I had with Bush’s campaign. It polarized things and made John Kerry the enemy. They were trying to put him out there as this person who wanted to have abortion on demand. I don’t think that’s what he was saying. However he needs to be engaged in a debate about whether he really can separate his faith from his politics. I don’t think you can do that.
Thomas Kennealy, S.J.