Role of Religion in American Public Life

Firstly while the use of religion as a way of

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Firstly, while the use of religion as a way of providing comfort to the people by members with political authority may seem like a breach of the separation between church and state, political figures are ultimately people, too. As citizens of a troubled nation, these figures are simply trying to reach out to their fellow citizens and are entitled to the same protections that are established by the Free Exercise Clause as any other citizen is. For example, when the Sandy Hook shooting and Boston bombing occurred and President Obama made remarks at the services, he opened with a word of Scripture (“Remarks by the President”). The references to a “higher authority” especially in the face of these kinds of tragedies just seem to have more of an impact as a form of solace, as it allows for that “higher authority” to take the reins and provide a sense of inner sanctity that just any person would not be able to effectively provide. Also, Rawls’ statement about the need for reasonableness which is unaffected in its validity whether God exists or not is ideal for public settings but may not necessarily be ideal for those with stronger religious beliefs. However, I agree with Rawls in his belief that the reasoning itself is fine, as long as the cause for that reasoning is not made because of one’s religious convictions. In this case, there should be a level of separation between the church and state, and one’s religious ideas should be able to be freely expressed so long as they do not suppress other ideas.
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A scholar who had a more strict opinion on the expression of one’s religious ideas is Richard Rorty. Rorty was a proponent of the Jeffersonian compromise which he says ultimately consisted of privatizing religion (Rorty). Rorty believed that bringing up religion within a political discussion would either cause an end to the discussion or an argument, and that the way to avoid such a situation is to privatize religion and keep it out of public policy. He argues that atheists will never be able to run for public office without being “…disingenuous about our belief in God” and resents the idea that “…you have to be religious to have a conscience” (Rorty). To counter the idea that a candidate for public office must have religious convictions, Rorty questions the relevance of a person’s depth of spirituality in the qualifications for his or her participation in public debate and likens the spiritual attribute to the same application as a person’s hobby or hair color. He calls for a retraction of religion from public, political matters, just as one does not allow for private affairs to interfere with their approach to public debate. He also brings to light the question of authority for one’s principles and argues that at the end of the day, atheists believe in something just as Christians do, although the subject which they choose to have faith in is Enlightenment ideology rather than a deity.
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