Political leaders should resist pressure from religious leaders to turn public policy debate into an exercise in theology, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"These are dangerous times for the First Amendment principle of church-state separation," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Religious advocates of all stripes are applying all kinds of pressure on politicians to start passing laws based on their interpretation of the Bible.
"From James Dobson to Jim Wallis, evangelicals are goading politicians to couch policy-making in Christian terms," Lynn continued. "This is deeply troubling and potentially very divisive. Politicians are not preachers, and political debate should not be turned into religious conflict."
Since the 2004 elections, Dobson and his allies have demanded that Republican candidates they helped elect must not only speak in religious terms but must start passing laws that advance the Religious Right agenda. Dobson told ABC News that President George W. Bush has a mandate to carry out the Religious Right's bidding.
Meanwhile, Wallis, author of a new book on religion and politics, is pressuring Democratic Party leaders to couch their positions in religious language in response to Republican moves. According to The New York Times, Wallis urged Democrats to find a middle ground on abortion and other social issues that are most troubling to religious traditionalists.
Americans United's Lynn, who is a United Church of Christ minister, said these developments are cause for alarm.
"Despite the threats from Dobson and the preachments from Wallis, elected officials should make decisions based on the public good, not private religious belief," observed Lynn. "The nation's public square is not without religious debate, and no one is advocating for a suppression of religious discussion. But our nation's laws must be rooted in constitutional values and reasoned analysis, not someone's personal take on scripture.
"Elected officials must represent all Americans, not the interests of any one segment of the religious community," Lynn continued. "Politicians are bound to uphold the Constitution, which provides for a healthy separation between religion and government. We cannot turn the floor of Congress into a theological debating arena."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in the safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.