Friday, February 29, 2008

Public Religion in America

Here a few pieces from Benedict's welcoming letter to Ambassador Glendon:
From the dawn of the Republic, America has been, as you noted, a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nation’s example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order.
Someone has read Alexis de Tocqueville.
The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues - a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse - is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God’s gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family.
I am very pleased with Benedict’s positive recognition of the American ability to make room for religious values in public policy. John Courtney Murray often referred the America’s religious liberty as great “articles of peace.” No doubt that phrase was made with reference to the Treaty of Westphalia and the end of religious warfare in Europe. Yet, it is worth noting that the United States has done a supremely better job in giving religious values a role in not only political life, but also cultural life.

The American experience in religious peace has been much more successful than Europe’s experiment. Tocqueville and Benedict are aware of this reason: the European dichotomy has been official religion or no religion. The American experience has given religion room to breathe, in both the public and private sphere.

Unfortunately, the public space for religious expression has constricted in the last few decades. I am of the opinion that the roots of this are in JFK’s speech to Protestant leaders in Houston during the 1960 campaign for President. However politically expedient it may have been, to declare that one’s religious values (presumably values that are both heart-felt and sincere) have no place in one's decision-making process was a tragic statement. Kennedy rebelled against a venerable historical tradition in this country in which religion and conscience were give a proper place in public life.

Mason Slidell

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