Faith and politics make for explosive mix

By Thomas J. Billitteri

Sarah Palin fired another shot in the culture wars last week, claiming that the United States is a “Christian nation,” and it didn’t take long for the return fire to come her way. The pyrotechnics are reminiscent of the strong views I heard earlier in preparing my January report on government and religion.

Speaking at a three-day Women of Joy Conference on Friday in Louisville, Ky., Palin declared that America must return to its Christian roots and, as reported by the Louisville Courier Journal, rejected the idea that “God should be separated from the state.”

“Hearing any leader declare that America isn’t a Christian nation and poking at allies like Israel in the eye—it is mind-boggling to see some of our nation’s actions recently,” she declared in an apparent allusion to a comment President Barack Obama made in Turkey last year in which he said “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or Muslim nation” but a “nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

Palin also denounced a federal court ruling in Wisconsin last week declaring government observance of a National Day of Prayer unconstitutional because its sole purpose is to encourage citizens to engage in a religious exercise lacking a secular function.

According to a separate account by ABC News, Palin declared that “God truly has shed his grace on thee—on this country. He’s blessed us, and we better not blow it.” And, she said, “Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our founding fathers, they were believers. And George Washington, he saw faith in God as basic to life.”

But Palin’s remarks invited a swift rebuttal from advocates of church-state separation. “The United States is not officially ‘Christian,’ wrote Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington advocacy group. “There’s a handy document, Sarah, that explains all of this. It’s called the Constitution.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told ABC News that “it’s incredibly hypocritical that Sarah Palin, who disapproves of government involvement in just about anything, now suddenly wants the government to help people be religious.”

A spokesman for the Secular Coalition for America told ABC that the Constitution “established a secular government and has no mention of Jesus, Christianity, or a god of any kind, despite the false message spread by figures such as Sarah Palin.”

Don’t look for the battle over history, politics and religion to go away, though. It’s been raging since the nation’s founding, and it continues to brew in 2010.

As Palin said of the court ruling on the National Day of Prayer, “I think we’ll be challenging that one.”

For more on faith and politics, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Government and Religion,” CQ Researcher, Jan. 15, 2010.