Through my writings, I’ve expounded on the complex relationship between religion and society. The basis for this relationship in America is the heavily toted principle, ‘freedom of religion’, which is often conflated with freedom from religion. I feel this conflation gives secularism its strong foothold in American society. I’ve explored how this separation is created and maintained through both direct and implicit implementation of secularism; and commented on how rigid this separation can be. However, I feel we are currently witnessing one of the greatest exceptions to American secularism: election season.
I’m always amazed at how visible religion becomes leading up to a major election. Some politicians utilize religion in their campaigns, as a way to illustrate sound morals and relate to voters. If a candidate does not make religion part of their campaign, the media or voters will inevitably ask the question. It is clear that a candidate’s religious or spiritual views weigh heavily in voters’ minds. For a brief period, religion has its place on the public stage, at least as much as it relates to the race. Election season sheds new light on the level of importance placed on religion in America. Day to day, religion may not be a pivotal topic in the public eye, but when determining a highly ranking leader, it is at the center of conversation.
It seems this election is concerned with making sure all candidates are strongly rooted in faith, and how that faith will be reflected in policy. When Obama was campaigning, the main concern was whether or not he was secretly a Muslim. This illustrates that, for many, faith is desirable in politicians, there is a ‘correct’ faith in the eyes of many voters. We see how the ‘freedom of religion’ has allowed a great variety of faith traditions to take toot in American. However, we also get a glimpse of attempts to selectively apply this principle to ‘acceptable’ and ‘similar’ traditions in order to stifle others. This perpetuates the generalized, normative, whitewashed notion of what an American should be like. The same way ‘freedom of religion’ can be used in different, even opposing ways, America is very much a secular society with some strong exceptions that could suggest otherwise.
(Perhaps I will explore these exceptions in the future. Feel free to comment with noteworthy exceptions to America’s secularism. Your suggestion may turn into a future article!)