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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Religion, Freedom, and the Tea Party Movement

In USA Today, Baylor University's Thomas S. Kidd writes:
The Tea Party movement seems conflicted about religion. Prominent Tea Partiers, including Glenn Beck, have steered away from the usual priorities of Christian conservatives: restrictions on abortion, gay marriage, and the like. But in other ways, we see evidence of religion's importance to the Tea Party: Beck's summer rally in Washington, D.C., focused almost exclusively on a return to America's heritage of faith, and a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute suggested that Christian conservatives represent the core of the Tea Party.

This identity crisis reflects a deeper question about religion's role in public life: Does faith restrict or enhance our freedom? Some might believe that the Tea Party's emphasis on liberty over moral restrictions represents a repudiation of the traditional agenda of the Religious Right. But instead, the Tea Party may actually represent a return of religious conservatism to its origins in Revolutionary America, when the Founding Fathers universally paired religion and freedom.

The Founders, writes Kidd, believed that religion leavened freedom with compassion (a major point of our chapter on civic culture) and provided a basis for national community. He cites a passage from Tocqueville:

In France, I had seen the spirits of religion and freedom almost always marching in opposite directions. In America I found them intimately linked together in joint reign over the same land. My longing to understand the reason for this phenomenon increased daily. To find this out, I questioned the faithful of all communions; I particularly sought the society of clergymen, who are the depositaries of the various creeds and have a personal interest in their survival. As a practicing Catholic I was particularly close to the Catholic priest, with some of whom I established a certain intimacy… I found that they all agreed with each other except about details; all thought that the main reason for the quiet sway of religion over their country was the complete separation of church and state. I have no hesitation in stating that throughout my stay in America I met nobody, lay or cleric, who did not agree about that.