Democracy, religion and the public sphere

Christopher Lambro Constas, Fordham University


In liberal democracies such as America, the mixing of religion and politics is often thought to be prohibited by the demands of good citizenship. However, religion and politics should not be prevented from mixing. The formulation of the general interest requires the participation of citizens in political debate. Also, the exclusion of religion from the public sphere discriminates against religious individuals. Finally, it redounds to the detriment of the poor and powerless, for whom religious institutions, groups and individuals have historically been a voice. But if religion and politics should mix, they should mix in such a way that the separation between church and state is retained. Institutional separation has proven beneficial for both church and state. It is especially necessary for the protection of religious liberty. Separation entails state neutrality and impartiality towards religion. Government should do nothing that compels citizens to be religious, or to be religious in a particular way. This does not mean that the state should be indifferent towards religion. Separation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end--the free exercise of religion. Separation does not entail church neutrality and impartiality towards the state. In many cases, this would amount to an abdication of the church's responsibility to be a moral teacher. There are reasons that churches and clerics (in their official capacity) should refrain from explicit political advocacy, but none of these reasons have anything to do with the principle of liberal democracy. Nor does the separation between church and state entail a separation between religion and politics on the part of a citizen. The demands of good citizenship in a liberal democracy do place some burdens on religious individuals with respect to electoral support, but they do not place burdens on religious advocacy in the public sphere. On the contrary, good citizenship demands religious advocacy in the public sphere. Still, a religious citizen must be wary of the ideological role that religion can play.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Religion|Philosophy|Political science

Recommended Citation

Constas, Christopher Lambro, "Democracy, religion and the public sphere" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9816357.