The theocratic party

55% of Reps favor making Christianity the official state religion. Only a third support religious freedom.

Fifty-five percent of Republicans in a YouGov poll would support making Christianity the official religion in the states where they live. Only 33% support religious freedom, only 15% “strongly.” A plurality of Republicans, but short of a majority, would amend the Constitution to make it the official religion of United States.

And you probably thought I was kidding, or exaggerating, when I called the GOP “theocratic.”


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

22 thoughts on “The theocratic party”

  1. What’s funny is when they try to give a hand-out to religion, but don’t realize that “religion” doesn’t mean “evangelical Christianity” for everyone. Like in Louisiana, where they had a program to give vouchers to private religious schools . . . and then freaked out because it meant that a muslim school in the state got it as well.

  2. One thing that caught my eye – 65% of republicans think there’s too little mixing of church and state compared to 36, 18% of independents and democrats. But the racial breakup shows it’s white respondents driving the view, with 41% feeling that way, compared to 23/35% for black and hispanic ones. I wonder if it’s about “being more Democratic” canceling out “being more religious”?

    1. I think that African Americans strongly suspect that their churches will not count. Catholics with any sense of history will also look at state Christianity in the U.S. skeptically.

    2. Perhaps the black churches just get so much more into politics than the white ones, (The Reverend Jesse Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton…) that the blacks in the polls are basing their opinion off a different status quo than the whites experience? And they’d like their preachers to be a little less political?

        1. Really? You know of many white Reverends running for public office? I get the distinct impression that the black Church is MUCH more politically involved than the white Church.

          I think it’s quite possible that the black and white laity have a similar conception of how political the Church should be, and it’s just that the black Church exceeds this, while the white Church falls short of it.

          In any case, anybody who wants an established church, and is themselves religious, is a fool.

          1. You know of many white Reverends running for public office?

            No, but I don’t know of many black ones, either. Two high profile examples, one of whom was a distinctly minor candidate, does not a trend make. And, of course, there are ways of being political that don’t involve running for office. The Reverend Rick Warren has certainly inserted himself into the political process. The Reverend Richard Land has as well. Strictly speaking, no Reverends from the Catholic Church have been political, but only because they use a different term to signify themselves.

            I think it’s quite possible that the black and white laity have a similar conception of how political the Church should be, and it’s just that the black Church exceeds this, while the white Church falls short of it.

            Every church I’ve ever been a member of, all pretty white, have been political. To me this isn’t surprising, as I think that morality and politics are inseperable (and the idea that we shouldn’t legislate morality is not only ridiculous but also impossible). So asking a church not to be political rather misses the point. But I do agree that having a particular established church is a profoundly bad idea for all involved.

          2. The Reverend Pat Robertson ran for President not so long ago.
            The Reverend Jerry Falwell knew who was to blame for 9/11.

            So, I’ll see your Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson.
            And I’ll raise you a Reverend Billy Graham and his execrable son, the Reverend Franklin Graham.

            For god’s sake, Brett, are you an atheist or aren’t you?


          3. Chuck Baldwin
            Ernie Fletcher
            Mike Huckabee
            Tim Hutchinson
            Ron Lewis
            Pat Robertson
            Ted Strickland

            All pastors or ministers.

          4. crickets.wav

            Brett, you lose credibility when you don’t acknowledge a mistake of fact like this.
            Conceding when another is right is a useful debate tool.

  3. Also, the effect of education levels is interesting/strange. For Christianity as state religion, strongly favor + favor is:
    < high school: 22%
    high school: 45%
    some college: 36%
    college grad: 20%
    post grad: 23%

    The < high school number is impacted by 46% in that group saying not sure, but doesn't this look like a weird U shape anyway?

    1. The unweighted numbers for “less than high school” are a bit too small to make much sense of, but there are clearly differences between respondents saying that there is too much separation between religion and state and those saying that they strongly favor making Christianity the official religion of the US. For high school, some college, and college grad, the percentages saying that religion and state are too separate are 42, 36, and 34; for favoring Christianity as the official religion of the country, the percentages are 31, 23, and 17. For Democratic, Independent, and Republican the percentages for “too separate” are 18, 36, and 65; for “official Christianity,” the percentages are 13, 15, and 30.

      It is clear that many more respondents are willing to endorse a statement that there is too much separation of religion and government than are willing to endorse Christianity as the official national religion.

      Cross tabulations of the data would be helpful. The percentage discrepancies for Republicans is greater than for Democrats. It is clear that for Republicans, these are two very different questions; for Democrats, it appears that many of them see the questions as closely related.

  4. I admit that I was shocked to see that Blacks, as a group, did not have more “theocratic” (what an ostentatiously inflammatory word, Dr. Kleiman) responses.

    Blacks and Whites both supported the Constituional amendment for the U.S. to adopt Christianity as the official religion at roughly the same rate: about 1/3. Meanwhile, 2 out of 5 Hispanics supported this Constitutional amendment.

    On another note, I’m not sure how I would answer Question #1, whether government has gone too far in keeping religion and government separate.

    On one hand, I deeply resent the unfairly advantageous tax treatment that churches and clergy unfairly receive at the expense of the broader public.

    On the other hand, I think that certain things that the government does to separate church and state–from the silliness of regulating before football prayer circles to the shameful Blaine Amendments which harm children en masse–are clear overkill.

    Also, I think that question #3 is a little weird. The individual states used to have official churches, before the incorporation of the Bill of Rights. (New Hampshire was Congregationalist.)

    I’m an atheist and not a theocrat but I could at least imagine living in an officially Christian USA that was not a hell-hole. (It’s an unAmerican idea but that’s the beauty of a Constitutional Amendment–you can do whatever you want, even allow ladies to vote!)

    1. I don’t think that question 3 is all that weird: it’s looking to see who knows the Constitution and the history of religion in Colonial America.

      What is unclear to me is how today’s courts (and particularly the Supremes, which is where it would end up either way) would react to a State attempt to establish an official religion.

    2. The fact that churches are not taxed is not a mixing of church and state it is a separation of church and state. “The power to tax is the power to destroy” and this is a set up that may stop the state from destroying a church. The idea is to have some independent institutions.

  5. I guess Norway, having not only a state religion but a state church, would be considered a “theocracy.” With our multitude of Christian denominations, it would be hard to establish a single one as the state church. I’m not at all in favor of it, but I imagine a state could pass a constitutional amendment saying, “Christianity will be the official church of the State of Whatever,” and it would have little effect beyond that official recognition.

    And I don’t see anything about Freedom of Religion.

    Speaking of which, the other day a federal court ruled on the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, an initiative of the Democratic Party:

    The mandate “trammels the right of free exercise,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for a divided three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    I wondered about how the rank and file of the respective parties weighed in on this particular religious freedom issue. It turns out that the Pew Research Center did a poll in early 2012 on that very topic. It turns out that the Republicans were on the side of religious freedom, with 73% of GOP respondents saying that religiously affiliated institutions should be exempted from the rule, while 64% of Democrats thought they should be made to provide coverage like everybody else.

    1. The (unanswered) question is whether this is really about religious freedom or just about plugging away at making corporate entities immune from, e.g., anti-discrimination laws, minimum wage laws (“The Bible says slavery is okay and we believe that deeply–no minimum wage for you!”) or fair housing laws (“Our company and everyone who works here agrees that gay marriage is against the Holy Writ so we refuse to rent to gay couples, even if legally married with this refusal being protected by God and religious freedom.”)

      And, what about the freedom, religious and otherwise of someone who works for a “religious” company and wants to use contraception? No coverage for you!

      Might be worthwhile taking a look at sorta libertarian SF writer Robert Heinlein’s attack on theocracy, “Revolt in 2100.”

    2. Someone posed the question, if a corporation belongs to the Church of Christian Science (can it get this absurd?) is that corporate person exempt from providing health insurance? If doing the things that are required by law to run a business conflict with a “person’s” religious beliefs that person has the freedom to abstain from running a business.
      As to Norway being a theocracy? I think the state church in Norway is pretty much a vestigial organ from the time when it really was a theocracy. OTOH if the USA were to amend the constitution so as to establish a state church you can bet it would be anything but vestigial. God forbid.

    3. rachelrachel wrote:
      “…I imagine a state could pass a constitutional amendment saying, “Christianity will be the official church of the State of Whatever,” and it would have little effect beyond that official recognition. ”

      Then there’s the way we do it in the USA. Folks impose their religious views on everyone else by seizing the machinery of government for their own “moral corrective” purposes, then change the law and claim it’s for your health, as the anti-abortionists have done in Texas and many other states.

      Of course, this is all OK, if anyone asks tough questions, you claim what you’re doing is ensuring “religious freedom.” The idea that “religious freedom” extends to constraining the freedoms of others to make their own choices about what benefits one draws from government programs is a cynical moral dodge of the highest order. Don’t want an abortion or contraceptives? Then don’t, but leave the freedom of others to make such choices alone.

  6. The purpose of having an established church is to keep it OUT of politics. And there is no other way to do that.

    The number of moral arbiters can be have only two values. It can be either zero or one. It cannot exceed one, because if it does, the result is as if it were zero.

    If you have an established church, it is the moral arbiter, but — surprise! As soon as you give it that role, it can have no other; it is effectively isolated.

    If you do not have an established church, then the churchES (plural) and the political system all contend for moral auctoritas and the result is chaos. This is what our Founders saddled us with. It seemed better than any possible alternative, at the time. Remember, they were Brits, and the hideous consequences of Henry VIII were still fresh in their memory — indeed, still unfolding in the Old Country, where the struggle between Catholicism and Anglicanism brought Britain to the very, very brink of all-out Civil War (over Ireland) in the summer of 1914 (only the fortuitous onset of World War I prevented it, and after that, fortunately, everyone had sort of forgotten, albeit leaving Ireland in an untenable condition of partition ever since).

  7. The highest level possible level of freedom of religion, including absence of an official religion, is at the core of America’s structure and concept. It is surely implicit and embedded in the enumeration of “certain unalienable Rights”, which Americans have from the outset recognized that, along with all men/humans, are endowed by their Creator. Thank you, Sir/Ma’am; we all praise you in gratitude.

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