Friday, February 11, 2011

CLERGY AND POLITICS

Probably one of the most misunderstood sections of the United States Constitution is this boldfaced portion of the 1st Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment which is the basis for the separation of state and "church" does not prohibit prayer in schools or and government functions. In fact Congress itself has a paid chaplain who opens sessions. Nor does it prohibit the mention of God in an oath as required by Article VI of the Constitution. The fact that it should be secular is in order to respect the sensitivities of those present of different faiths.

Nor does being a Priest or minister, or Rabbi, or Iman* disqualify one from seeking an elected office or participating in government. In Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 494 (1961) . The Supreme court ruled that being a clergyman did not disqualify one from public office. Justice Brennan, joined by Justice Marshall, found Torcaso controlling because imposing a restriction upon one’s status as a religious person did penalize his religious belief, his freedom to profess or practice that belief.


The above is basic and I post it because despite the above I shall be arguing that there is little place for dedicated religious leaders in decision making politics. Nor should one be appointed to a position based solely on his/hers position as a congregation leader.

These individuals are "human" like the rest of us and are subject the usual human foliles. One can not expect them to be unbiased in their decisions on certain issues, but they are also not known to recluse themselves when religious beliefs impact on secular actions. For example; what vote would you expect from a Catholic Priest or an Orthodox Rabbi on an issue involving an abortion clinic, or birth control?

There is always the tendency for influential religious leaders to use the pulpit to influence their flocks votes or position on controversial matters. Sometimes they will actually try to become the power behind the throne. An extreme example is the action of Liberty University in Lynchburg Va, where the school had all its students who were of age register as voters  and  controlled the local political elections.. Liberty University was founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by the late  evangelist Jerry Falwell took its present name in 1984. Falwell's son Jonathan has succeeded him in his ministry which preaches an extreme fundamental religion including  YEC (see link below**) The University has 20,000 residential students plus about 44,000 0n line students and thus had a big impact on the local politics. This is an extreme example but demonstrates the potential of an organized religious sect upon local politics.

What does this have to do with Plainfield? We have many congregations ranging from store front churches to large affluent edifices. All have congregants devoted to their pastor. Politicians tend to curry favor with leaders that can deliver votes. Additionally all are members of some congregation. Therefore it stands to reason that some clergy can have an undue impact on the local political scene.

I concur that our religious leaders should be actively involved in the community as a whole. Yes, some have taken a very positive secular role from their church in trying to solve community problems. The question is, does their position entitle them to be in a policy making position? Only a few have a business expertise, There are only a few that can make an financial enterprise out of their religious pulpit. There are also questions  about their sociological acumen. 

Therefore, I consider that an elected position as Mayor or Councilman/woman is an inappropriate position since by nature they can not help by being biased. Likewise there are certain Commissions and Boards that they should not serve on either because of potential conflict of interests or lack of qualifications. There are others where their unique training  makes them ideal members. The Council is right in giving as serious a review of ministerial candidates as with other candidates in the Council's "Advice and Consent" role.

This however opens the issues raised  in  the recent Council vote on the three  names submitted by the Mayor for PMUA Commissioners. The only one approved was Rev. Tracey Brown. However good her qualities are and despite her reported  personal relationships with the Mayor there was an unasked question about her ability to function in view of reported remarks at a recent rate setting PMUA meeting where she was alleged to have blasted the public for questioning the actions of the Commissioners and the PMUA leadership.



* It is my understanding that in the Islamic religious sects there are not "ordained religious service leaders' but the leaders in prayers and sermon deliveres are those accepted by the community for there piety and knowledge. "The Sunni branch of Islam, whereto approximately 90% of Muslims adhere, does not have a clergy and therefore an Imam is not a cleric like that of a Christian priest. In the Shi'a branch of Islam, the concept of an Imam occupies a much more central religious position." (Wikipedia)
** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Earth_Creationism

7 comments:

  1. Tracey Brown is also the mayor's pastor, a possible example of not making a broad-based search for commissioners.

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  2. I have never seen Jewish or Christian clergy, (with the exception of Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr) call for the destruction of America or, to hold "down with America" protests in the streets like some Imams have done,also burning and desecrating the American flag. These actions sicken me!
    Also,the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the 1st Amendment erected a "wall of separation" between the church and the state (James Madison said it "drew a line," but it is Jefferson's term that sticks with us today). The phrase is commonly thought to mean that the government should not establish, support, or otherwise involve itself in any religion. Like England establishing the Anglican Church or Islam in Iran.
    The website,
    http://www.usconstitution.net/constnot.html
    quite succinctly lays out what is and what isn't in the U.S. Constitution better than most I have read.
    Politicians in Washington DC have sworn to defend the Constitution with their lives and yet it seems as though some are not even aware of it's contents!
    What you are talking about when clergy of any type try to hold political office ,is that you have a conflict of interest!
    Albeit the only way to do anything about it is at the ballot box!
    No matter how you look at the situation, we are in BIG TROUBLE!

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  3. Pertaining to your first paragraph, only. That means the Council can have a Wiccan prayer, a tooth Fairy prayer, an Ode to Zeus,a paean to the Spaghetti Monster,a prayer to a tree and even a prayer to God's non existence. One person's religion is another person's fairy tale. No one ever has a problem, until their Ox is gored or made a burnt offering. Religion should be private and have no say in the execution of our secular government apparatus.

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  4. and I agree with Nat Singleton. Religion should be kept private. Religion is an oppressor of free thinking, which is why it best if it is kept out of any public place. That's why there are churches. You want to pray? go to a church, or pray to yourself.

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  5. Nat I am sorry to say this but I think that you and Anon 7:53 are bloviating popinjays and I wonder what you are smoking . . . what I said, and what you think I said are two different things . . . apples and oranges!
    I believe that religion should keep out of politics, and politics should stay out of religion! And they both should keep out of government!!!!

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  6. Blackdog, tone down that ego; drop that chip off of your shoulder. I wasn't responding to your comments but Old Doc's blog post and specifically the first paragraph, only. Now, as to bloviating popinjays
    (popinjays?! That's rather a quaint term), I'll accept that as a criticism but then again 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone.'

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  7. Boys Boys enough of the petty quibbling. You merit posting because you have increased our vocabulary. There should have never been a question about what Nat was referencing, so I did post his response.

    I think it is ridiculous to start a meeting with a "prayer" since it has never prevented a governing body from acting wrongly.But as long as the prayer is not offensive to anyone and makes someone happy so be it.

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