God and Government: Why Christians must be involved in the political process

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In this respect, one may point to former local Dutch government plans to bring more liberal forms of Islam into action to minimize radicalization. Such a policy might actually damage the credibility of more liberal religious communities. If a government financially backs certain religious communities, then the right of freedom of religion and the principle of equal treatment are rather strong arguments for possible aid to all denominations.

The starting point, namely, that freedom of religion, in general, gives no grounds for facilitating religious communities, does not apply when government itself is responsible for hindering the exercise of the right to freedom of religion.

Therefore, in most countries governments take care, for example, to supply the spiritual needs in the military. In the United States, political candidates often use or have to use religious references to attract voters; in other countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, this is less obvious, even though, at the same time, political parties with religious backgrounds do exist. In this section, we will deal with several interrelated issues. First, the meaning and relevance of religious arguments in political debate; second, the question of whether a democracy under the rule of law should limit religiously inspired political ambitions.

The answer to the question as to whether religiously inspired political parties have a special position follows naturally from this argument. It would be strange if diversity in a religiously pluralistic society would not show itself in the process of political opinion formation. Believers are religiously motivated, which does not always change when they enter the political arena. Moreover, religious communities may have special interests that they want to have represented in political debate.

In a democracy, political rights like freedom of speech and association guarantee that everybody is entitled to participate in political discussions. In view of these fundamental rights, religiously inspired contributions have the same status as other contributions. All the same, we have seen that in a pluralistic society government had better not base its decisions on a religious foundation.

From this point of view, religious arguments in the political debate might be considered less relevant. Religious points of view may enrich discussions with arguments that otherwise would be without a voice. Such an idea casts doubt on all political movements wishing to build a perfect society. Another possibility could be that religiously inspired participants in the political debate translate their views and arguments into arguments with which anybody—believer or nonbeliever—might agree. Years ago, the main argument of a Dutch Reformed political party against the liberalization of pornography laws was that pornography should be considered a gross offense against God.

The assumption that religious arguments need some sort of translation is also important because compromises play a rather important part in democratic political opinion formation and decision making. A religious argument that is tantamount to an appeal to the inalterable will of the supreme being probably prevents concluding political compromises.

Up till now, the argument in this section has focused mainly on the desirability of a well-functioning political debate. So far, the need for juridical norms limiting political rights has not been discussed. The situation might be different if religiously inspired political movements strive to establish a theocratic political system, wish to abolish equality between men and women, or want to classify nonbelievers as second-rate citizens.

Should Christians Be Involved in Government and Politics?

In countries such as the United States, a more formal concept of democracy prevails. Political freedoms are indivisible in the sense that they protect views and aspirations completely contrary to the starting points of a democracy under the rule of law. As long as political opinions are not considered incitement to imminent lawlessness, they are protected, no matter if they are, for example, of a racist or dictatorial nature.

In other countries, a more substantive concept of democracy prevails. As a result, the Constitution presents a framework for acceptable political opinion formation. The Dutch Constitution does not explicitly lay down such a substantive framework; no abuse-of-fundamental-rights provision is included.

Nevertheless, it is still possible that unwritten supraconstitutional starting points exist. Further research into such possible foundations falls beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the position of religiously inspired political parties is clear enough. These parties have, in principle, the same position as other political parties. Political parties which are convicted for discrimination may lose their state subsidies.

State and religion meet in society in the social and cultural domain. Of old, churches and religious communities have been involved in physical and mental health care and have supported the poor. Religious organizations in these fields were and still are assisted by a relatively large number of volunteers. During the last two centuries, the part played by religious organizations in these areas has decreased, however. First, the above-mentioned services have been professionalized.

The Essential Role of Religion

As a result, the link with religion has become weaker, and the room for voluntary work has diminished. Second, the state has claimed a greater role for itself. So the question arises, what might be the role of private organizations with a religious background and, more particularly, whether and under what conditions government may or should subsidize such organizations?

Looking at different countries, a varied picture may be seen.

Should Christians Become Involved in Politics?

In France, after the Revolution, the health care system was secularized, while, at the same time, illnesses were treated on a more medical-scientific basis. The present strong stress on laicism does not mean, however, that organizations such as the Catholic Juvenile Assistance Organization are excluded from financial support by the government. Under positive Dutch law, the government has no strict obligation to give those tasks to private organizations. Policy considerations of a financial nature, for example, could point in another direction.

In the United States, the situation is rather ambiguous. On the other, organizations with a religious background, active in the child welfare, for example, or care for the elderly, do receive state support. Second, the primary effect of the funding measure may not advance or obstruct religion. And third, the measure should not lead to an excessive entanglement between state and religion. In my opinion, there are two interrelated justifications for supporting organizations with a religious or philosophy-of-life background. People might prefer the social, cultural, or health services offered by such organizations.

Still, it must be stressed that those organizations are supported because and only insofar as they meet professional standards and, therefore, their activities can be considered to be in the public interest. That implies that government may and should lay down quality requirements. These requirements, however, do not regard the religious background of these organizations but their professional activities.

Christians Don’t Fit into the Political System. Period.

For ages, churches and religious organizations have played a central role in the field of education. In the nineteenth century, however, in a lot of Western countries a system of public education was developed with, originally, some kind of Christian character. Lessons in religion, the substance of which is decided by the churches, are a normal part of the curriculum in a lot of public schools. Pupils, however, may obtain an exemption. There is a world of difference between the situation in Germany and the situation in France.

In France, primary and secondary schools in the public education sector are obliged to ban all religious influences. That is thought to be the only way a child is able to develop into a free citizen of the French Republic. In this approach, subsidies for private schools with a religious background are not really acceptable. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Netherlands had a system of public education imparting general Christian morals. Some stricter Protestant groups found this form of public education neither flesh nor fowl; Catholics were not satisfied, either.

So these denominations started their own schools. In , religious parties had achieved such influence in parliament they managed to insert a provision in the Constitution to the effect that private schools have a right to state funding on an equal level with schools in the public education sector. That is the main reason why in the Netherlands the private education sector has an enormous size. Nowadays, however, only in a small percentage of these private schools, religion plays an all-important role.

As far as public education is concerned, teaching of Christian morals as such has disappeared, to be replaced by a certain openness to different religions and philosophies of life. Churches and religious parents consider education at school one of the means of conveying to children valuable religious ideas. It, too, wants to convey certain common values to all future citizens. Against this background, some current questions have to be answered.

The first question is: Should the government support private schools with religious backgrounds and, if so, under what conditions? The second question is: To what extent should there be room for religious expression in the public education sector?

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Given the great national differences in Europe, it is self-evident that freedom of education, laid down in article 2 of the First Protocol of the ECHR, does not oblige states to support private schools. State support leads to diversity in the supply of education. Citizens take responsibility in governing these schools.

These advantages are similar to those in the social service sector. Still, the conditions to establish for private schools are of the utmost importance. Again, the starting point is that the government will back private schools because and only so far as the education meets quality standards and the teachers are professionals. That implies that disciplines have to be taught thoroughly. Pupils must learn about evolution theory. Quality education has to prepare pupils for active citizenship, for participation in a democracy under the rule of law. Therefore, some knowledge of the presuppositions thereof, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and equality between citizens, is mandatory.

These presuppositions are rather neutral and do not push forward any particular portrayal of mankind. If the religious background of a school prevents fulfillment of these conditions, state support should be out of the question. In other words, one may expect from private schools a certain openness to democracy under the rule of law. A counterargument might be that these conditions aim too high, given the social and cultural background of some pupils. The argument, however, is not convincing if it is meant that a lot of pupils have a background where democratic values are missing altogether.

That would be all the more reason to pay attention to these values at school. Another counterargument might be that private schools may be contributing to the existence of communities that distance themselves from the rest of society. On the other hand, support for private schools under certain conditions may also lead to understanding democratic values, both through the curriculum itself as well as by the fact that government supports diversity, and citizens and government together are responsible for education.

In the Netherlands, there is no proof that schools with an Islamic background, as such, cannot prepare pupils for citizenship or that they contribute to the radicalization of Islamic youngsters. A different question concerns the position of religion in the public education system. The issue of wearing head scarves has received a lot of attention. At schools, attention must be paid to freedom of religion and to the diversity of religious denominations and philosophies of life.

It is self-evident that teachers may not propagate or attack certain religions. In Germany, the Constitutional Court judged the regulation in Bavaria, which made it mandatory for schools to install a crucifix, contrary to freedom of religion. If a teacher wears a religious symbol, we have a different situation. A teacher may appeal to the right of freedom of religion. Under French law that right carries no real weight for civil servants at work. As has been pointed out, no civil servant is allowed to wear religious symbols. In other countries, such as Germany, freedom of religion carries some more weight for teachers at state schools.

In my opinion, it is important to understand that teachers do not exercise public authority in the actual sense of this term. The fact that teachers at private schools have similar authority shows this in perfect clarity. Still, the relationship between a teacher and a pupil is longer lasting than the relationship between, for example, a police officer and a citizen. Yet a comment must be made. A teacher wearing a head scarf should forestall the suggestion this is the right thing to do, especially in a situation where a controversy exists in this respect. If it were established that such kinds of problems regularly occur, reconsideration would be necessary.

The question whether pupils should be allowed to wear religious symbols is also answered differently in various European countries. Tolerance reigns in England, although not all religious dress rules are acceptable in the public education sector. French pupils seem to be able to become citizens of the French Republic only insofar as they leave their religion at home. In my opinion, pupils are thus erroneously being considered civil servants.

The French law prohibiting pupils from wearing religious symbols has other rationales as well, for that matter. Research has demonstrated that a lot of girls wear a head scarf under pressure from parents or peer groups. I am not sure, however, that the complicated relationship between free choice, education, and pressure can be solved by the government compelling pupils to be free.

Another reason for the French law was that head scarves were considered Islamic propaganda or a symbol of repression of women. If religion, in general, is seen as a panacea for many or even all social problems, advocacy of a strong bond between state and religion in every domain goes without saying.

BreakPoint: Let’s Talk about Christians and Politics

The contrary holds true if religion is considered harmful. If, however, the main point is freedom of religion, the individual citizen should assess the value of a religion. These dimensions will be reviewed again briefly. In a pluralistic society, the state should not commit itself to a certain religion or philosophy of life. That would suggest that a supreme being legitimizes government authority. A neutral exercise of authority regarding religion, in substance and appearance, on the other hand, does not exclude citizens.

The counterargument that government, by behaving so, chooses for an atheistic state, is not correct. A state has no conviction and is not comparable to an individual holding a conviction. Conversely, the government has no prominent role to play in the religious domain. Spiritual welfare is ultimately a personal or institutional affair. That citizens might be offended by the religious doctrines of others is the price to be paid for fundamental freedoms. Only if preaching switches to intimidation or incitement to violence or if religion inspires criminal offenses is government intervention is mandatory.

As a result of government restraint, there may exist a diversity of denominations, neither supported nor evaluated by the government. It would be strange, indeed, if religious and philosophy-of-life diversity were not recognizable, to a certain extent, in political opinion formation. Still, it is desirable that arguments in political discussions are able to appeal to every citizen. Government, however, has no steering role, here, even while supporting political parties financially. In Europe, it would be different if a party were to attack the premises of a democracy under the rule of law.

Backing by the government, on an equal level with public institutions, therefore, is justified. A precondition for receiving support is meeting professional standards. In principle, this holds true for the educational sector as well. Yet, the curriculum has to meet professional standards, not leaving out important scientific doctrines. Moreover, an added condition would be a certain openness to democracy under the rule of law. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Sign In or Create an Account. Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Article Contents. Comparative law and a spectrum of models. Religion in the state domain. Government in the religious domain. State, religion and the forming of political opinion. State, religion, and social services. State, religion, and education. State and religion, a multidimensional relationship: Some comparative law remarks Aernout J. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation.

Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract Comparative law research regarding the relationship between state and religion often uses models. On the one hand, a ban on wearing headscarves at a university is not incompatible with the right to freedom of religion in the European Convention Leyla Sahin v. On the other hand, the same holds true for an obligation to display a crucifix in primary school class rooms ECHR 18 March , Lautsi v. See for a further discussion of this theory of secularization and the shortcomings thereof, W. In the United States, by contrast, Muslims account for only 10 percent of the immigrants, id.

Pillarization is the segmentation of society along religious lines; in a pillarized society religiously based organizations play an all-important role in education, media, health care and so on. In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church is the established church; Wales and Northern Ireland do not have established churches. Theodore S.

Sophie C. Labuschagne ed. The preamble of the Irish Constitution has a different approach: the Most Holy Trinity is the source of all authority. Article 6 of the Irish Constitution, however, states that all powers of government derive—under God—from the people. McCreary County v. Perry, US In the Netherlands, not until , was a Catholic appointed secretary general at a ministry. In Germany, all states have their own rules. Hessen, for example, has chosen the French system. G ROOT , supra note 26, at — The Act of Settlement requires the head of state to be a protestant clergy.

He engages himself on oath to protect the Church of England and not to marry a Catholic. The clergy of the Church of England recognizes the supreme authority of the sovereign. Katzenstein eds. Religie in dienst van de seculiere staat [ The Turkish paradox. This centralized tax collection might reinforce the church hierarchy. The church tax amounted to 7.


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The need to attract a large following could be a factor in explaining the lively church attendance, A. Foreign Aid , 95 G EO. S ACHS , supra note 15, at The German Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that the right to freedom of religion as such does not cover a right to financial support. However, if support is given, the principle of equality plays an important part, Bundesverfassungsgericht 12 May , E , This starting point does not exclude completely that government may take measures in certain distressing circumstances, for example, if denominations with a lot of illegal immigrants meet in underground parking garages.

This subsection is in no way meant to be an overview of the discussions about the relationship between religion and public reason. In France, the Catholic daily La Croix has to a large extent profited from regulation concerning state aid to the press. In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled the exclusion of religiously inspired student journals from subsidies for student journals contrary to the First Amendment, Rosenberger v. University of Virginia , US P HIL.

Such doubt is not exclusively of a religious nature, however. The political party concerned was already convicted as a criminal organization guilty of incitement to hate, discrimination, and violence, Hoge Raad [Supreme Court] 30 July , NJ , And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? This is the most important right of all. If the state can decide on a whim who lives and who dies, than your right to life is not secure. A third foundation of republicanism the system of government, not the political party is limited government.

According to a biblical worldview, institutions that shape society include the family, the church, and the state. Each has its own area of responsibility and should not interfere with the jurisdiction of the others. For example, the family has the responsibility for raising and educating their children. The church has the responsibility for religious instruction and helping the poor. Put differently, the state is designed to do only a few things, not everything. For example, a car is designed to travel on the road.

It is not designed to travel on water. The state is not designed to care for everyone from the womb to the tomb. It is given only a few tasks. Notice how the founders inscribed the idea of limited government into the Preamble to the Constitution , which lays out the areas for which the federal government is responsible:.

To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition. Take, for example, the issue of abortion. And it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that scientifically and medically speaking, human conception is the beginning of a new human life. The same is true for not allowing embryonic stem cell research, since this kind of medical experimentation destroys human life. How about the matter of same-sex marriage?

Moreover, in Matthew , Jesus defines marriage according to the original plan of God when He created Adam and Eve as male and female. There was a purpose for two sexes: to continue the human race. This is not only a biological fact designed into our own bodies, but because of its significance, God proscribed moral boundaries to preserve this most fundamental unit of every society. The idea of wealth redistribution is called interventionism , or a managed economy. This is where the state regulates the economy through taxation and redistribution of wealth.

Is this a good idea? Attempting to have the state do things that are outside its jurisdiction results in a host of negative consequences. For one thing, as the role of government increases, individual liberty decreases. That is the opposite of limited government. It takes a large, massive bureaucracy to implement such a redistributive strategy. To maintain individual freedom, the maxim of limited government must be kept in the forefront.

For instance, how should we think about government programs to help the poor? The idea of taking from the rich to give to the poor comes from Robin Hood, not Jesus. Jesus said to help the poor, but he told that to his followers, not to the Roman governor. From a biblical standpoint, charity is the responsibility of the family and the church, not the state. Second, using tax policy to redistribute wealth sets up class warfare among the people. This does not bode well for unity and cooperation within a nation.

We observe this conflict in the rhetoric of every politician today. Third, seeking to help the poor through government programs is costly and wasteful. Simply from a pragmatic perspective, it makes no sense to channel money through the state. And fourth, government welfare is ineffective.

The concept of the welfare state developed in the early s with the advent of Marxism-Leninism. Of course, the history of socialism in the U. By , after just odd years of this government-imposed socialism, the U. Cuba is in the same sorry state, and China is moving toward limited free-markets out of desperation. In the United States, socialistic leaning politicians, recognizing the pitfalls of pure socialism, thought they could improve on the basic concept.

They sought to reshape society by manipulation of the economy through tax policy. Of course, anyone could have anticipated, as the founders did, that government programs to help the poor will not, in fact, cannot, work. That is why the founders never wrote that responsibility into our constitution. The majority of both major parties, Democrats and Republicans, voted for this legislation. But where in the Constitution does it say the state is supposed to be in the mortgage loan business?

As a result of this departure from sound economic theory and moving into social experimentation through government intervention, the free-market is slowly being strangled. This is happening because of political greed in the form of campaign contributions from special interest groups and corporate lobbyist.

The problem does not rest exclusively with the greedy businessmen on Wall Street. There is plenty of greed to go around Constitution Avenue, as well. The gigantic cost of social hand-outs and corporate bail-outs comes back on you, the tax-payer. The tax-paying citizen is the only resource that government has for paying its obligations. How should a Christian respond to the erosion of these three foundations of freedom? How is it possible for a Christian to conscientiously vote during these social, moral, and economic times?