IFAS | Freedom Writer | July 1996 | question.html

Liberal churches have been politically active for years, so why is it
wrong when conservative churches engage in political activities?

By Larry Berg, J.D.

The constitutional basis of our form of government requires a wall of separation between church and state. The Radical Religious Right and its associated conservative churches undermine this central principle. The goal of conservative churches is to challenge the current need or historical basis for separation. In contrast, liberal churches do not express such a goal.

The church can educate the electorate. The church can take positions on moral and ethical matters that are important to it. It can take part in the development of social policy. The church can be for or opposed to the death penalty, opposed to abortion or in favor of individual choice, or in favor of or against gun control. The church can even advocate positions on issues, which as an activity in itself poses little threat to the separation of church and state. Liberal churches have frequently undertaken this type of role in social policy development.

However, a problem does arise when the church's activity has as its primary goal the weakening of the wall of separation. An expressed goal of the conservative Religious Right has become the election of Christian candidates whose specific goal is the establishment of a Christian nation and a public policy which is founded on Christian theology. These candidates express positions that call for Christian prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and the celebration of Christian holidays and the use of Christian symbols in public events and on public property.

Unlike liberal churches, the conservative churches associated with the Radical Religious Right argue in favor of using biblical law and interpretations as the official basis of public policy. They often label people good or bad Christians based on what positions the person takes on matters of public policy. In this manner, the conservative churches are able to instruct their members on how to vote by calling on them to be good Christians. The conservative churches have little tolerance for differing views on public policy and they perceive these differing views as anti-Christian and un-American.

Conservative non-Christian churches are not immune to this problem. Like other conservative churches, they undertake activity that is directed toward the development of a religiously based public policy or government-sponsored programs that have as their purpose the enhancement of religion in general or the favoring of one specific religion over others. These goals clearly undermine the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.