Faith, Politics, and Roy Moore

<> on September 25, 2017 in Fairhope, Alabama.

Scott Olson

<> on September 25, 2017 in Fairhope, Alabama.

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   Recently, Alabama Republican Senate Candidate, Roy Moore was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. His accuser, who was only 14 at the time of the alleged assault, told the Washington Post that Moore first assaulted her while they sat outside a courtroom on a bench. Alabama State Auditor, Jim Zeigler, defended Moore with a biblical reference. Zeigler told reporters to think about “Joseph and Mary…Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” In the same religious vein, Moore’s brother Jerry told CNN that his brother’s accusers “…are going to…have to answer to God for these false allegations” and that his brother was being “persecuted like Jesus Christ was.” This idea that Roy Moore can be compared to the Messiah of the Christian faith while being accused of child molestation is ludicrous, but it is an example of how faith is used as a political weapon.

Roy Moore is not lacking defenders. Some, like Brandon Moseley, an Alabaman reporter, argues that the allegations of child molestation argue that the accuser should just keep quiet because the alleged incident happened 38 years ago. Sean Hannity, a Fox News host and the man who once offered to be waterboarded for charity, represents the more conventional argument for Moore’s defense. Hannity argues that the Washington Post, who reported and published the allegations against Moore, being a generally liberal organization and having endorsed Moore’s Democratic opponent, is motivated solely by politics. This is a more reasonable argument, but it shifts the blame off of the accused. This idea that Moore is only being accused to bolster a Democratic candidate is why President Trump is able to speak for Moore’s character and endorse him without having to address any of the accusations. When Alabamians vote in the general election on December 12th, the country will be able to see if Hannity’s defense allowed voters to choose party over ethics by discrediting the victims.

The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is what is known as separation of church and state.  By separating religious and legislative institutions, the government encourages diversity and free speech. The danger of having leaders who are closely affiliated with a religion is that they will make policy decisions based on that religion’s moral code instead of the law. A counterargument to this could be that every leader, religious or secular, makes decisions based on their morals and that the legal system already enforces a specific morality. This counterargument only makes sense if the legislation and religion share the same goals, but the use of faith as a tool to discriminate against American citizens weakens that possibility.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump appealed to Republican Evangelicals for support. This has become a common move for Republican politicians over the past few decades. With 57% of White Evangelicals reporting that they feel more discriminated against than Muslims (Green, Atlantic), it is easy to see how a candidate could gain support by pledging to defend ‘the silent majority,’ that being white, Christian voters. For voters like these, Donald Trump’s candidacy was a godsend. Not only did Trump promise to uphold their values, but he actually followed through with them once elected. Already Trump has tried to ban transgender soldiers from the military, a move reminiscent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to limit the number of immigrants from non-Christian countries. In a tirade against political correctness at the Values Voter Summit on October 13th, Trump told supporters that his enemies don’t “use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct. We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” For a president to tell American citizens which religion he prefers shows the need for separation of church and state.

There’s a historical precedent for Christian policies being in conflict with established legislation. After the 2012 Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, prominent Christian politicians often use the First Amendment to justify discriminatory policies. Recently, Jack Phillips, a Christian baker refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. His lawyers argued that Mr. Phillips should be allowed to freely express his religious beliefs under the First Amendment. This case raises the question: if religious teachings encourage discrimination or any crime, should followers be allowed to practice or legislate by it? Consider how upset Christian voters would be if this question was applied to them. Before 1961, candidates for public office had to declare their belief in a higher power to serve. In 1961, the Supreme Court ruled that a Maryland man elected as a notary public, an impartial witness to deter fraud around the signing of government documents, didn’t have to declare religious beliefs to serve. This ended the restriction on atheists holding public office. Eight states still have this restriction in their states’ constitution, but it isn’t enforced. However, discrimination based on an atheist’s absence of religious preference is still common. A 2014 Pew poll found that 53% of Americans think it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral. The eight states with pro-religious language in their constitutions are populated and governed by a Christian majority. Fundamentalist Christians who would love to criminalize gay marriage and abortion are comfortable using their faith and the First Amendment as a weapon to attack atheists and LGBT+ citizens, willfully ignoring the separation of church and state granted by that same amendment.

It is unreasonable to say that this problem originates from Christianity itself. It is only when politics and Christianity mix that decisions about abortion, gun ownership, and vetting procedures can be influenced or justified by faith.

 

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Faith, Politics, and Roy Moore