You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Current Events’ category.

The Sun, San Bernardino, Calif. * April 8, 2005 * by Sue Doyle

CLAREMONT – Considering a run for the presidency? Better pull out your thesaurus to plant religious buzz words in your speeches and policies that will resonate well with voters.

And after assuming office, it doesn’t hurt to be seen at church or to hold Bible study sessions in the White House.

That was the message delivered Thursday on the third and final day of a conference on “Religion and the American Presidency’ at Claremont McKenna College, where educators from throughout the nation discussed the role of Catholicism, evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Jews in politics.

‘Language is the most important tool a president has,’ said David Leege, author and professor emeritus from Notre Dame University. “If you try to attract a certain voting block, you will use a strident language to mobilize them.’

Leege said that Ronald Reagan and President Bush originally used the word “pro-choice’ on the campaign trail and in speeches. But when they realized that evangelical voters were restless about the issue, they tapped into it and changed the syntax to “right to life’ and “culture of life.’

The change in wording spoke directly to that block of voters, making the presidents more appealing.

At the same time, Democrats went in the other direction to appeal to women in the work force and used words such as a “woman’s right to choose.’ That may have worked with Democratic voters, but it polarizes swing voters who are crucial for a win.

Leege said that if the language is too strong, it scares away voters. When that happens, politicians turn to more moderate words.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., for example, is using softer language these days about the abortion issue that appeals to both sides. She still defends abortion but says people should do everything they can to reduce them. Clinton encourages others in the Democratic Party to accept this language.

“Politicians use speech for political purposes. There are speech writers who in part write speeches that connect with audiences. And you need to know your audience,’ said Corwin Smidt, political science teacher at Calvin College and director of the Paul Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics.

Reagan, who was known as the Great Communicator, connected well with people because he kept his language simple and optimistic. Known for saying things such as “it’s a new day,’ Reagan kept his messages easy and they worked with constituents.

“If you can find something that’s simple, most people will go for that politically,’ said Smidt.

Whether it was scenes shown on TV of Bill and Hillary Clinton leaving church on Sundays or words from religious hymns embedded into George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address, presidents use religion as a way to reach out to constituents, said Adam Warber, author and assistant professor of political science at Clemson University.

The Bush administration, for example, was the first to develop a unit within the White House devoted to religious issues with the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

But Bush’s religious intentions were no match for Beltway politics. After he established the office, Bush didn’t have a clear direction in which to steer it. The White House focused on tax cuts and education instead, Warber said.

Still Bush refers to the office every once in awhile in speeches and on camera, although it hasn’t done much of anything. But its very existence represents a religious position that resonates well with some voters.

“It has become a political tool,’ said Warber. “He has a rhetorical strategy that he knows won’t work in the end.’

Zahid Bukhari, director of the American Muslim studies program at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, was scheduled to speak on Muslims and the presidency, but an illness kept him from attending.

Also scheduled to speak about Jews and the presidency was Rabbi David Dalin, an author and a history and political-science teacher at Florida’s Ave Maria University. Dalin was too ill to travel.

Scripps College student Miriam Lazewatsky, 20, read Dalin’s paper to the audience.

(original article)


This paper was written for David N. Hempton’s course, Secularization in Europe and the United States, c. 1780-2000, which was offered in the spring semester 2010.

Contemporary Spain is an overwhelmingly Catholic country. Although the 1978 Constitution transitioned the country from a dictatorship to a democracy and abolished an official state religion, 75% of Spaniards still self-identify as Catholic.1 In recent years, however, the number of people who ascribe to no religion has increased, while regular church attendance has decreased. According to a 2009 study, just over 20% of Spaniards are either atheist or profess no belief in any defined religion.2 The marked increase in religious apathy among contemporary Spanish citizens indicates a trend toward secularization.

The current Spanish government, lead by Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has made changes to Spanish laws regarding social norms that put the government at odds with the Catholic church. Zapatero is not the first post-Franco leader to liberalize the Spanish constitution. The changes instituted under his leadership, however, do move much farther from Catholic social doctrine than previous changes and indicate a distinct separation between Spain’s Catholic roots and current social leanings.

Since the end of the Spanish State led by Francisco Franco, the relationship between religion, public policy, and the people has been contentious. During Franco’s regime, from 1936 through 1975, Catholicism “dominated social and civic life;” National-Catholicism, as it came to be called by it’s detractors, created as strong relationship between the government and the Catholic church.3 Shifts during the Franco regime, however, also show changes in the Catholic character of the Spanish State. When he first came to power in the 1930s, Franco worked to reestablish a “national Catholic culture” in order to maintain a cultural hegemony that would both unite the country and reinforce his power as dictator.4 Under Franco’s leadership, Spanish schools and universities were run outwardly by Falange, a fascist political party, but moral formation was still the province of the Catholic church, which held ultimate authority over the educational system. By maintaining control over the education children received, the church was able to instill in them a strong belief in Catholic doctrine in conjunction with allegiance to the state.

The church hierarchy, with some reluctance on the part of Rome, had supported Franco’s Spanish State since its inception in 1939.5 In 1953 Pope Pius XII signed a Concordat giving Franco Rome’s official moral endorsement. The Second Vatican Council, lasting from 1962 through 1965, changed the manner in which the Catholic church related to the modern world, particularly in the realm of human rights. This shift created problems between the church and the Spanish State, which, under Franco’s dictatorship, had severely restricted the rights of Spanish citizens and executed or imprisoned tens of thousands of dissenters.6 Gaudiam et Spes, one of the best known pastoral documents to come out of Vatican II, states, “persons and societies thirst for a full and free life […] in which they can subject to their own welfare all that the modern world can offer them.”7 This level of freedom is not possible within the type of dictatorship that defined the Spanish State under Franco, in which culture was defined and controlled by conservative Catholic values.

Anti-clerical sentiment was evident among Spanish Catholics even before the doctrinal conflict instigated by Vatican II. As early as 1957, close to 90% of Spanish workers considered themselves anti-clerical, while close to half described themselves as anti-religious.8 These numbers, in a country in which over 85% of citizens still labeled themselves Catholic, betray a deep divide between outward labels and private beliefs among Spanish Catholics even during Franco’s regime. After Franco’s death in 1975, however, the shift became more distinct. Franco had arranged to reinstated the monarchy after his death and named Juan Carlos, a member of the exiled royal family, as his successor. Franco believed that Juan Carlos would continue his tradition of autocratic rule. This, however, was not the case, and soon after assuming power, King Juan Carlos set in motion the beginnings of a Spanish democracy.9 A social and democratic constitution was ratified on December 6, 1978, signaling a beginning to the Catholic church’s more direct influence in Spanish politics.10 Although the church, particularly post-Vatican II, “played a major role in demanding respect for human rights and in supporting the whole democratic process,” conflicts arose as the clergy saw the approach of social freedoms in direct conflict with Catholic values.11 Even with the shift towards democracy, Spain maintained some remnants of traditional Catholic social values. This is evidenced by the restrictions placed on abortion in a 1985 law limiting its availability to “cases of rape, if a [fetus] is damaged or if the pregnancy could endanger the physical or mental health of the mother.”12 While this new law decriminalized abortion, its prohibition on abortion at the mother’s discretion demonstrates that the Catholic church did still retain significant influence over matters they considered to hold moral significance.

From the 1980s through the present, the Spanish government shifted farther to the left. From 1982 through 1996, the office of the prime minister was in the hands of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which again gained control in 2004, with the election of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. From 1996 through 2004, José María Aznar of the Partido Popular (PP), a right-centrist party, held office. Although more conservative than the PSOE, Aznar and the PP lead Spain during a period in which apathy towards institutionalized religion soared.13 During his two terms in office, Aznar liberalized Spain’s economy through labor market reform, but his support of “The War on Terrorism,” in addition to the March 2004 terrorist attack in Madrid, hurt his party’s standing, and they lost to the PSOE in the 2004 elections. Under Prime Minister Zapatero’s leadership, Spanish social policy has continued to liberalize, often in direct conflict with church teachings. After more than 40 years of influence over Spanish social policy, progressive social reforms in the areas of abortion, same-sex marriage, and education have angered many traditional members of the church hierarchy.

One of the first changes to Spanish social policy after the shift to a democratic government was the decriminalization of abortion. The bill was first introduced in 1983, to the anger of Catholic groups, who argued that it conflicted with Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution, which states, “Everyone has the right to life.”14 This version of the bill was ultimately declared unconstitutional in 1985, but another version, amended with safeguards to prevent “abortion at will,” was passed later that same year. This version allowed abortion only in cases of “rape, malformation of the [fetus], and grave danger to the life of the mother.”15 In February 2010, Zapatero’s government further liberalized abortion laws to remove restrictions on abortions performed up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and to allow teenagers 16 and older to obtain abortions without parental consent.16 The liberalization of Spanish abortion policy has created tensions between the progressive government and both the Catholic church and more conservative citizens. Aznar’s party, the more conservative PP, accused the PSOE of trying to destroy the family, “one of the pillars of Spanish society,” through “unrestricted abortion.”17 By allying themselves with the Catholic church and its socially conservative viewpoints, the PP speaks both to Catholic Spaniards and Spanish nationalism, highlighting the relationship between the two.

The conflict between traditional Catholic values and socially progressive laws is also evident in the changes to Spanish divorce laws. Divorce is not allowed under Catholic doctrine, but in 2005 Prime Minister Zapatero introduced legislation to make divorces easier and quicker to obtain.18 Although divorce was officially legalized in 1981, the law required a long period of legal separation before an actual divorce could be obtained. This requirement, as well as social stigma, kept the divorce rates in Spain significantly lower than in the rest of Europe.19 Since Zapatero’s government eased the divorce laws, rates have increased steadily, leading the clergy, as well as many social conservatives, to argue that liberal divorce laws are detrimental to society. A leading Spanish family lawyer, however, argues that the law simply allows divorces among people who might otherwise have simply separated before the change.20 Liberalizing Spanish divorce laws does not, in his opinion, drastically impact the number of people who want divorces, but rather makes divorce a viable option to those who would otherwise stay married, but live completely separate lives. Evidence supports the claim that more lenient divorce laws do not significantly impact the number of couples who want to divorce. Additionally, the majority of the Spanish population supports liberal divorce laws. Despite popular opinion, however, Catholic doctrine opposes divorce and the church continues to oppose changes to Spanish divorce law.

In 2005, shortly after current Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took office, the Spanish legislature voted to approve legislation to alter the constitutional definition of marriage. With the addition of one sentence, “Marriage will have the same requirements and results when the two people entering into the contract are of the same sex or of different sexes,” Spain extended full marriage privileges to same-sex couples.21 The extension of marriage and adoption privileges to all couples, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, made Spain’s legislation the most liberal to date. Had it been less progressive, however, it seems likely that the Catholic church would still have reacted strongly to what it saw as the dissolution of the traditional family. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Family, denounced the legalization of same sex marriage, and called for faithful Catholics to refuse to enforce the legislation, even if it meant losing their jobs.22 By calling on adherents to endorse the political and social positions of the church over those of the state, the Catholic hierarchy has inserted itself into Spanish politics to a degree that is not often seen on other Western European countries.

In the United States and much of Europe, even those countries with an official state religion, the process of liberalization has had relatively little interference from a religious opposition with legitimized influence or power. While religious groups in the United States do wield some political power over their congregants, churches risk losing their nonprofit status if they become overly involved in political matters. Both Norway and Sweden have state churches as well as laws legalizing same-sex marriage and other progressive social reforms. Although membership in the state church is generally not indicative of church attendance or belief in religious principles, it is important to note that even a state religion is not necessarily a barrier to social progress. Spain’s struggle between Catholic tradition and social liberalization and secularization is representative of the past and present influence of the Catholic hierarchy, as well as remnants of the national Catholicism that Franco promoted during his regime. The reelection of the PSOE, Spain’s socialist party, in 2004 demonstrates the commitment of a plurality of Spanish citizens to maintaining a separation between church and state.

1. “Barómetro de Julio Estudio nº 2.811,” Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, July 2009. p. 19.
2. Ibid.
3. Frances Lannon, Privilege, Persecution, and Prophecy: The Catholic Church in Spain 1875-1975 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. 33-34.
4. Lannon 221.
5. Audrey Brassloff, Religion and Politics in Spain: The Spanish Church in Transition 1962-96 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), p. 6.
6. Ibid.
7. Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes. Rome, December 7, 1965.
8. Brassloff 11.
9. Brassloff 80.
10. Brassloff 98.
11. Brassloff 99.
12. “Madrid Anti-Abortion Protest Draws Thousands,” New York Times, 7 March 2010.
13. Brassloff 138.
14. Brassloff 123.
15. Brassloff 124.
16. “Spain OKs new abortion law, angers church,” MSNBC. 24 February 2010.
17. Ibid.
18 Paul Hamilos, “Spain’s divorce rate soars after rules relaxed.” The Guardian, 17 November 2007.
19. Ibid.
20. Hamilos.
21. Renwick McLean, “Spain Legalizes Gay Marriage; Law Is Among the Most Liberal,” New York Times, 1 July 2005.
22. “Vatican condemns Spain gay bill,” BBC News, 22 April 2005.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Secularizing Religion in the Political Sphere

Like the women who shaped the feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s, the New Religious Right that arose in the aftermath of the sexual revolution made the personal political. “During the campaign, [presidential candidate Ronald] Reagan made a point of courting the evangelical and Catholic vote. He told a gathering of ministers in Dallas that he would base his presidency on traditional values”42. Reagan’s promise hearkens back to the United States’ long tradition of sexual conservatism, in which the government “dictated an appropriate socialization of children within the family, as well as appropriate roles and behaviors for heterosexual couples, strictly within the confines of marital relationships”. The United States’ sexual conservatism, however, is not constant or unwavering. Historical periods of liberalization have always been followed by periods of regressive social policy, particularly concerning women and sexuality43.

Matthew D. Lassiter argues that “the evolution of the Religious Right from a grassroots social movement to a powerful interest group […] has not succeeded in reversing the cultural trends of secularization targeted by evangelical activists,” but recent legislation, both at the federal and state levels, indicates otherwise44. Abortion is indeed still legal throughout the United States, but individual state governments are slowly chipping away at a woman’s right to choose. In early 2010, several states passed legislation limiting women’s access to abortions.

In Oklahoma, state legislators overrode the governor’s veto of a law that would force women seeking abortions to undergo an invasive ultrasound. After the ultrasound, women would be subjected to up to an hour-long lecture explaining the “findings” of the ultrasound45. A second law prevents women from suing doctors who knowingly withhold information concerning genetic or developmental abnormalities from a woman seeking abortion46. The Oklahoma attorney general temporarily blocked the laws at the request of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which has filed suit against the state on behalf of several Oklahoma abortion providers. The hypocrisy of these two laws, when looked at together, is clear. On the one hand, women are forced to spend up to an hour listening to a doctor, or even an ultrasound technician with limited medical knowledge, “explain” the findings of an ultrasound. The doctor, however, is allowed to lie by omission to the woman, by failing to disclose any evidence of abnormal development noted during the ultrasound. By condoning this behavior, the Oklahoma legislature makes clear their bias against abortion, and their belief that women are not intelligent or knowledgeable to make an independent decision about their own bodies.

In Kansas, the state legislature overturned the governor’s veto of a law that requires abortion providers to medically justify abortions performed past 22 weeks by proving that the woman’s physical health is directly threatened by continuing the pregnancy. The law also allows the partner of a woman who has undergone an abortion, or even the parents of a minor, to sue an abortion-provider suspected of violating these new terms47. Giving this type of power to husbands or parents, traditionally a woman’s protector, takes away the woman’s right to make independent decisions about her own body. Like those in Oklahoma, the Kansas laws treat women as though they are not capable of making informed, consensual decisions regarding their own bodies.

In order to avoid violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, authors of bills that seek to limit access to abortion must frame their arguments in non-religious terms. Referring to a fetus as an “unborn child” instead of discussing ensoulment, stating that medical abortion is unnatural, and calling the legalization of abortion a “holocaust” all recontextualize abortion as a non-religious debate. While legislators may use nonreligious rhetoric in their arguments against abortion, the vast majority of anti-abortion organizations are either affiliated with Christian ministries or use religious language to support their anti-abortion stance. Although individual conscience is integral to the freedoms guaranteed by the United States government, much of the apparently-secular anti-abortion movement has
religious roots.

It is difficult to imagine that any woman actually enjoys the thought of needing an abortion. Over half of women seeking abortion in the United States had been using some form of birth control when they became pregnant. Another third believed that they were not at high risk of becoming pregnant 48. Without comprehensive sexual education, which the Religious Right generally opposes, young men and women are left without the tools to properly prevent unwanted pregnancy or understand what behaviors put them at risk. Even when framed using secular language, conservative Christian rhetoric permeates American attitudes towards sex and sexuality. These attitudes, often invoked in order to maintain control over women’s bodies, deny women full status as American citizens and the ability to fulfill the promise guaranteed to all Americans in the Declaration of Independence: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Abortion may not have been the original issue that mobilized conservative Christians to become active in American politics, but over the past forty years it has become the issue with which they are most closely associated. The Religious Right astutely judged that few Americans would be energized by issues of non-profit status and tax exemptions; opposition to interracial dating is taboo to admit publicly for fear of accusations of racism. Abortion, however, is a political position that can easily be tailored to appeal to a wide variety of Americans, many of whom are not evangelical, or even Christian. By reframing their message as “pro-family” rather than “anti-abortion,” the Religious Right is able to appeal to Americans who fear that an increase in divorces, sexual freedoms, and out of wedlock pregnancies has led America toward moral decline. By capitalizing on the fears all parents have about their children’s health and well being, the Religious Right created a secularized version of their message that has become ingrained in the fabric of the American political rhetoric of sexuality and abortion.

40. Bruce p. 87
41. Bruce p. 90.
42. Sara Diamond, Not by Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right, (New York: The Guilford Press 1988) p. 133.
43. Diane di Mauro and Carole Joffe, “The Religious Right and the Reshaping of Sexual Policy: Reproductive Rights and Sexuality Education During the Bush Years,” in Moral Panics, Sex Panics: Fear and the Fight over Sexual Rights ed. Gilbert Hurdt (New York: New York University Press 2009) p. 47.
44. Lassiter p. 27.
45. “Kan. House Overrides Veto Of Antiabortion Bill; Okla. Law Temporarily Blocked,” Medical News Today, 5 May 2010. .
46. Kathy Lohr, “Strict Oklahoma Abortion Measures Become Law,” National Public Radio, 27 April 2010.
47. (ibid. footnote 45).
48. RK Jones, JE Darroch and SK Henshaw, “Contraceptive use among U.S. women having abortions in 2000–2001,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2002, 34(6) p. 294–303.

This opinion piece was originally written for Father J. Bryan Hehir’s course, “Religion and Government: Choices of Morality, Law, and Policy,” taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the fall of 2009.

The United States guarantees negative religious freedom. The government can neither dictate our religious beliefs, nor can it prevent us from acting on those beliefs. Very often, however, upholding the beliefs of one group infringes on those of another or upholding federal or state laws may contradict the religious practices of certain groups. For this reason, the United States Supreme Court often uses two tests to determine the constitutionality of the First Amendment cases that they decide. The Sherbert test, derived from Sherbert v. Verner (1963), a case involving a Seventh Day Adventist textile worker who was fired for refusing to work on Saturdays, requires the court to determine the sincerity of an individual’s religious belief and any “undue burden” a government action may put on this belief. If the first two criteria are met, then the court must decide if the government action is furthering a “compelling state interest” and whether or not this interest can be pursued in a less restrictive manner. The Lemon Test comes from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), a case in which the Supreme Court decided that teachers ofsecular subjects at private religious schools in Pennsylvania could not be paid with public funding. The Lemon Test has three prongs, and, unlike the Sherbert Test, none of these prongs are dependent on any other. The Lemon Test states that: 1. The law or government action must have a secular purpose; 2. It must not have the primary effect of either inhibiting or promoting religion, and; 3. It must not cause excessive government entanglement with religion. Unfortunately, what constitutes an “undue burden,” and “excessive entanglement” is extremely subjective and it is at the discretion of judges – who have their own biases – to determine the constitutionality of a particular case.

One might expect that a judge experienced enough to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court would be able to set aside personal religious or ideological beliefs in order to adjudicate fairly. This, however, can be difficult in a nation in which the majority of citizens ascribe to a common belief system. Of the current justices on the Supreme Court, six are Roman Catholic (Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor); one is Protestant (Justice Stevens); and two are Jewish (Justices Ginsburg and Breyer). Given that over two thirds of the justices are Christian, it should be necessary for them to be even more sensitive to the different religious and belief systems present in the United States, rather than defaulting to their personal ideologies. It is evident, however, that this is not always the case. In the ongoing case regarding the memorial cross in the Mojave Desert, Justice Scalia said that: “the cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead1.” In his haste to preserve an historical monument, Scalia has not only secularized the primary symbol of his own religious beliefs, but he also disregarded the oppressive meaning of that symbol to the many Americans who are not Christian.

The United States may be a nation with a Christian majority but the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses preclude us from being a Christian Nation. Since the purpose of the Supreme Court is to uphold the Constitution in all its parts, Justice Scalia has failed in his duty by presenting a Christian symbol as though it were neutral. Peter J. Eliasberg, the ACLU lawyer arguing the Mojave Cross case, countered Scalia’s contention that the cross is a neutral symbol by noting that he has never seen a cross on any headstone in a Jewish cemetery. In order to truly uphold the prohibition on the establishment of a religion, it must not appear that the government favors any religion over others, and, in contemporary society, this also requires not favoring religion over non-religion. The addition of a Buddhist shrine to the the memorial has already been denied, and Justice Scalia questions the feasibility of creating a “conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star” as an alternative memorial. But if we are to function as a truly pluralistic society – and we already are, whether we like it or not – we must find a way to include members of non Christian faiths and traditions.

1. Ken L. Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, et al. v. Frank Buono.(2009) §08-472 pp. 38-39.



Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

wordpress visitor counter