It is once again time to celebrate the independence of our country. For those of you who may not be Americans, this is a big deal here. Americans are very patriotic, or at the very least, we make a good show of being patriotic. I have honestly never seen the point of blowing things up to prove how much you love your country, but that’s what we do.
Patriotism is a very interesting subject. What does it mean? How does one show it?
I have written before about the fact that religion and politics are almost unseparable in this country. It is extremely difficult to discuss a political positions without mentioning religious views. (See my post last week about Morality and Legality)
Is this a bad thing? There is so much talk about “separation of Church and State” but I don’t think people really know what that means. First, it’s not written in any official government document. Not in the Declaration of Independence, not in the Constitution, not in any amendment. It comes from a phrase in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists Association in 1803.
The way I understand this phrase, it does not mean that the government cannot do anything related to religion, it only means that the federal government will in no way foster one religion above another. We have no state religion in this country as other nations have, and that is as it should be. The government should remain neutral in matters of specific religions, but not necessarily on all religious matters.
Along those lines, I have no problem with prayer in public schools. As long as the school does not make it mandatory. In my high school there was a group of students who would gather at the flagpole every morning for a prayer. Completely voluntary, those who wanted to pray, were allowed to pray. It was a neat experience.
This nation was founded on religious principles; hard work, religious freedom, God-given inalienable rights, et cetera. It shouldn’t be surprising that we like religion mixed well into our politics. I mean, I am a very religious person, my religion is important to me, and so when I vote for someone who will represent me in Congress or as the President of the United States, I will look for someone who not only has good clear ideas about what he or she wants to do to improve this nation, I look for someone who has strong convictions and lives up to those convictions. Not to say that I would never vote for an atheist, but I like to see politicians who are genuinely religious and allow that to give them the necessary strength to lead.
But, I greatly respect the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with regard to political neutrality. Just as the government should not endorse one religion over another, the Church has always held the same policy toward political parties and candidates. There is a letter read in all American congregations each year near election day, coming from the Office of the First Presidency of the Church, encouraging all members to be involved and to vote, but never directing how to vote.
It was also interesting that the First Presidency issued a letter to all local leaders, dated the 16th of June, just before both Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman visited the state of Utah on their political campaigns. The letter said, in part
General Authorities and general officers of the Church and their spouses and other ecclesiastical leaders serving full-time should not personally participate in political campaigns, including promoting candidates, fundraising, speaking in behalf of or otherwise endorsing candidates, and making financial contributions.
Local members of the lay clergy, like Bishops and Stake Presidents, who do not work for the Church full-time, and therefore do not receive a stipend from the Church for living expenses, were not under the same prohibition. They are “free to contribute, serve on campaign committees and otherwise support candidates of their choice with the understanding they:
- Are acting solely as individual citizens in the democratic process and that they do not imply, or allow others to infer, that their actions or support in any way represent the church.
- Will not use Church stationery, Church-generated address lists or email systems or Church buildings for political promotional purposes.
- Will not engage in fundraising or other types of campaigning focused on fellow Church members under their ecclesiastical supervision.”