Despite the fact the Constitution demands a separation of church and state, the line has been considerably blurred by the Bush administration, and the practice carried over into the 2008 presidential campaign strategies, a religion professor said.
Ron Flowers, professor of religion, along with Stephen Reeves, legislative counsel for the Christian Life Commission, will examine the role of political candidates’ religious affiliations and the earmarking of tax dollars for religious charities today in the Robert Carr Chapel.
Both speakers said some of the Bush administration’s faith-based initiatives, which effectively rewrote the laws on government funding for religious organizations, are problematic, and the mindset behind them was also visible in the 2008 presidential campaigns.
Flowers said both Obama and McCain understood the initiatives as a way to appeal to religious voters.
“What we had in this election is what we had in the previous two,” Flowers said. “People are turning their back on the Constitution and the idea that it separates church from state.”
Reeves, who is part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said the initiatives could cause problems for the churches as well.
“There are dangers there on many levels,” he said. “The way the initiatives have been set up, safeguards have been removed that really were needed.”
Reeves said great concern for some churches is the exemption to the Civil Rights Act that allows religious organizations to hire based on religious beliefs.
Once government funding is introduced, he said, their right to selectivity becomes discrimination.
That is just one small aspect of the complications that Reeves said churches are facing in the aftermath of the initiatives.
“It also opens the door for government eyes following the money and having access to the innerworkings of the church that they never had before,” he said.
Another big concern is the church could find it difficult to speak out against perceived injustice in government actions, Reeves said.
“It’s kind of hard when the church is taking government money in one hand,” he said. “The concern is that it could cause them to lose their prophetic voice.”
Rodney Thomas, a graduate student at Brite Divinity School, helped organize the event and said he hopes the discussion will shine light on how the faith-based initiatives are used in campaign strategies, and the current and future role of religion in politics.
“We just want people to become more educated about the important issues surrounding the separation of church and state,” Thomas said.
The one-hour event is free and open to the public.
Religion in Politics and Government
Who: Ron Flowers, professor of religion, and Stephen Reeves of the Christian Life Coalition
When: 4:30-5:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Robert Carr Chapel