We start this with the inescapable fact that the Constitution bars a religious test for public office. Unless it be clearly established that an individual holds and, given opportunity, would act upon tenets of a violently antisocial nature, his or her theological views by themselves should not be the basis for granting or withholding access to office. In addition, the First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” However, as one commentator as noted: “If someone walked into an average Protestant or Catholic church in the 1980s, they were just as likely to sit next to a Democrat as a Republican. That’s no longer the case: In almost all majority-white Protestant churches, political conservatives dramatically outnumber those who are left of center.” Times have changed. Over time, a “God Gap” opened up between the political parties. Religious people are more likely to vote Republican and non-religious people are more likely to vote for Democrats. Black Protestants are the most conspicuous exception to this rule.
The New York Times has observed: “The First Amendment’s establishment clause was once understood to place limits on the government’s involvement with or facilitation of religion, but those limits appear to have been smashed. This legal demolition has been accompanied by the demotion of other important principles like equality, public health and simple fairness in law, resulting in a disorienting imbalance of values in American society.”
Political experts have cited these factors as the primary reason for these changed attitudes:
- The founding of the Christian Coalition in 1987 by Pat Robertson and led by Ralph Reed starting in 1989;
- Pat Buchanan’s “ Culture War” speech at the Republican National Convention in 1992 during which he said “There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war…for the soul of America”;
- Bill Clinton’s election later that year, which energized many conservative Christians who questioned both his personal and public morality during his presidency.
- The establishment under the Clinton administration in 1993 of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy which relaxed legal restrictions regarding sexuality and military service;
- Newt Gingrich’s rise to prominence in 1994 Gingrich’s Contract with America;
- The corresponding Republican takeover of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952 as a consequence of their 54-seat swing and the corresponding Republican takeover of control of the Senate;
- The passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 which defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages;
- The Clinton scandal involving Monica Lewinsky
Pew Research Report of September 2023
https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2023/09/19/americans-dismal-views-of-the-nations-politics/found that majorities say the political process is dominated by special interests, flooded with campaign cash and mired in partisan warfare. Elected officials are widely viewed as self-serving and ineffective. There is widespread criticism of the three branches of government, both political parties, as well as political leaders and candidates for office. Positive views of many governmental and political institutions are at historic lows. Just 16% of the public say they trust the federal government always or most of the time. A growing share of the public dislikes both political parties. Nearly three-in-ten (28%) express unfavorable views of both parties, the highest share in three decades of polling. Majorities back age and term limits and eliminating the Electoral College. Majorities say the political process is dominated by special interests, flooded with campaign cash and mired in partisan warfare. Elected officials are widely viewed as self-serving and ineffective.
A comprehensive new Pew Research Center study of the state of the nation’s politics finds no single focal point for the public’s dissatisfaction. There is widespread criticism of the three branches of government, both political parties, as well as political leaders and candidates for office. A growing share of the public dislikes both political parties. Nearly three-in-ten (28%) express unfavorable views of both parties, the highest share in three decades of polling. Majorities back age and term limits.
An October 2022 Pew Research Study https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2022/10/27/religion-and-the-supreme-court/ found a big increase in the share of Americans who view the Supreme Court as “friendly” toward religion. Following a historic session in which the court overturned Roe v. Wade and upheld the right of a public school football coach to offer prayers after games, more than one-in-three U.S. adults (35%) now say they think the Supreme Court is friendly toward religion, up from 18% who said this in 2019. However, most Americans oppose the idea of Supreme Court justices bringing their own religious beliefs to bear in deciding major cases. More than eight-in-ten U.S. adults, including majorities in both political parties and in every religious group measured in the survey, say Supreme Court justices should not do this.
The New York Times has reported: “The Supreme Court has become the most pro-religion it’s been since at least the 1950s, and it appears to include the six most pro-religion justices since at least World War II. Since John Roberts became chief justice in 2005, the court has ruled in favor of religious organizations in orally argued cases 83 percent of the time. That is far more than any court in the past seven decades — all of which were led by chief justices who, like Roberts, were appointed by Republican presidents.” According to the Times: The recent cases show that: “Since Amy Barrett became a justice in 2020, the court has taken a sledgehammer to a set of principles and compromises that have been carefully forged over decades to balance religious freedom with other important – and sometimes contravening – principles.” The paper points out that: “Since Justice Barrett replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court has sided with religious plaintiffs in every major religion case except a few exceptions on the shadow docket, representing an essentially unbroken streak of wins for Christian plaintiffs.
Is that the government we want? Is that the kind of Supreme Court we want for America? Govermment dominated by legislatures lacking in honesty, integrity with little regard for the public good other than raising money to ensure their re-election. The highest court in the land whose selection as justices for life was made on the basis of their religious and political beliefs instead of their dedication to enforcing the laws and Constitution. The time honored separation of church and state has been a key to better government and a fair judiciary. We can only hope both will be restore once again.