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Good Thinking on "Faith and Politics"

Excerpts from "Faith and Politics" by David Price, nine-term representative from the 4th district of North Carolina.

"Religious faith is a critical source of political motivation, and religious convictions shape our advocacy. But as people of faith enter the political arena, we will necessarily seek understanding and agreement across communal lines. We will invoke commonly held values and the shared aspirations of the wider community. Rather than viewing our religious convictions as a debate-stopper, we must follow Isaiah's injunction: "Come now, let us reason together."

There may be situations where religiously-based disapproval of certain behaviors (for example, same-gender sexual relations) comes into conflict with shared democratic values such as civil liberty and nondiscrimination, which themselves have a strong religious pedigree. Sometimes, religiously grounded precepts may not find broader agreement. In such instances, the best course may be to stop short of codifying specific religious and moral precepts into civil law, leaving the individual and communal expression of conscience free.

Religious conservatives often bridle at counsels of restraint, complaining of being asked, as my colleague Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) puts it, "to check my Christian beliefs at the public door." There is also a tendency to belittle the search for common ground as leading to a mere "common denominator" that lacks specificity or force. That, I believe, greatly underestimates the power of the fundamental principles of our constitutional democracy, which have deep religious roots but also find broader resonance. Certainly it would have come as news to Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King as they invoked the Declaration of Independence to combat slavery and segregation, that making a universalistic appeal diluted their passion or the force of their argument.

We also need to understand two critical facts about the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of the "establishment" of religion. As noted, it does not require the "privatization" of faith. And secondly, its defense is not only that religious coercion must be avoided but that religious liberty must be protected. The First Amendment, in other words, protects not only civil liberty but also religious faithfulness. The most powerful argument against the tendency of some conservatives to transgress constitutional boundaries is in fact a religious one, as became clear when the "Religious Freedom Amendment" to the Constitution, heir to the earlier school-prayer amendments, was defeated in the House in 1998.

Finally, our religious traditions teach us humility, and that, too, should influence our politics."
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