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If you didn't know by now, religion is really big in America — almost the entire country follows a certain religion. The freedom to follow any religion is under our First Amendment — having the freedom to follow any religion, exercise it, as well as respect other people's choices in religion, too. Many people use religion as a method of safety and sanctuary — they feel safe when practicing their preferred religion. Which is one of the main reasons why religion is in politics.
Religion definitely affects politics. You always hear the president say after his speech, "God bless America." We even mention God in the "Star-Spangled Banner" and in the "Pledge of Allegiance" — America is pretty religious. The country puts a lot of trust in God, since the majority of Americans are Christians/Catholics.
But where did religion come from in politics? I'm about to unravel the true history of religion in American politics so you can understand better where we stand as a religious country.
Church and State
In 1780 through the 1820s in New England, the Federalist Party was the dominant party that was linked to the Congregational Church. And once the party came down, the church was disestablished. During elections, Federalists targeted infidelity. They constantly targeted the Republican candidates for being atheistic or just without a religion, like Thomas Jefferson.
Baptists, Methodists, and other religions favored the Republicans. However, Baptists made the disestablishment one of their founding principles and this led Jefferson to choose the Baptists of Connecticut and announce that there should be a wall of separation between the church and state — an important aspect in the history of religion in American politics.
Even though the separation between church and state is legal from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that states, “Congress shall make no law respective an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
However, Robert N. Bellah argued that the separation of church and state is placed firmly in the constitution — which doesn’t mean that there is no religion in the political aspect of the US. He’s even analyzed a part of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, “Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word ‘God’ at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension.”
Catholics make up a large part of the United States — going at about 80 percent or slightly higher. Even though the United States never really settled on a religious party, members from the Church have been active in politics ever since the mid-19th century.
From the mid-19th century to 1964, Catholics were solely Democrats. They even formed a core part of the New Deal Coalition with overlapping memberships in the Church, working class, big city machines, etc. which all promoted liberal policy positions in domestic affairs and also anti-communism during the Cold War.
Ever since a Catholic president was elected in 1960, Catholics have split between both major parties 50/50. But once John F. Kennedy was nominated a Democratic president, religious tensions rose. And in 2004 when John Kerry was nominated for the Democratic Party, who was anti-religious, most Catholics didn’t vote for him, but a lot of them voted for George W. Bush instead — history of religion in American politics comes into play in presidential elections.
Soon, Catholics drifted away from liberalism and converted to conservatism for economic issues. For social issues, the Catholic Church continues to be strongly against the idea of abortions and same-sex marriages. The Church is fiercely against the majority of liberal laws and ideas.
In current days, less than half of the US Senators are Catholic.
Jewish immigrants didn’t show up in the United States until the early 1880s when the Eastern European Jews slowly came through — and the majority of them were liberals. Many of the Jews rose to leadership positions in the early 20th century during the American labor movement and played major roles in the Democratic Party. For the most of the 20th century, Jews in the US have been aligned with the Democratic Party. However, near the end of the 20th century, Republicans found a way to lure American Jews.
Yet, there isn't a specific party that has the entire Jewish community on their side.
Religion in Politics Today
Religion is still in politics today, it’s clear that you hear and see the president asking God to bless America during speeches, telling the citizens of America to pray for the victims of disasters and other horrific incidences. You hear God in the “Pledge of Allegiance,” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
When it comes to the history of religion in American politics, religion not only plays a large role in politics, but the people of America. Those who are believers in God lean towards parties that follow a specific religion — like the Republicans. Since Republicans go against what Catholics also go against, such as same-sex marriages and abortions, most Catholics are Republicans.
Catholics want to strengthen their religion by following a political party with the same religion. It only makes sense to follow a party that way — no one would follow a party that goes against his/her beliefs. That’s why the majority of Catholics support the Republican Party.