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Religious Right in US Politics

Info: 3225 words (13 pages) Essay
Published: 11th Sep 2017 in Politics

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Examine and assess the political impact of the religious Right on US politics under the presidencies of George W. Bush.

The political impact of the religious Right throughout the George W. Bush Presidency was powerful and multi faceted. This essay will outline the religious milieu from which George W. Bush emerged, as well as assess those who reinforced and strengthened religious perspectives and influences within the Executive throughout this period. In addition to this specific assessment, this essay will examine the remarkable influence religion had in Bush’s campaign. It will argue that the Bush Administration used political techniques in order to pass largely religious platforms without the controversial labels, thus minimizing opposition.

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After having lived a life marked by substance abuse George W. Bush believes he had a deep religious conversion. As a result, he would refer to God in public addresses, and openly stated a number of times that he sought guidance from god during his presidency. With statements like these, it is inaccurate to state that George W. Bush and his administration were a completely secular body. Furthermore, we must address the fact that his major appointees were also highly religious. This specifically relates to a number of key positions held by men such as Dick Cheney Vice President, Michael Gerson, appointed Chief Speech Writer, John Ashcroft, Attorney General, and Jerry Boykin appointed Deputy Under Secretary of Defence for Intelligence. All of these roles are profoundly influential and were all given to Evangelists.[1]

The rhetoric of George W. Bush and his administration was undeniably religiously influenced. The notion that the State and the Church is entirely separate was not present in this presidency. However, due to ambiguity, political jargon, exaggeration, and a plethora of other political techniques, the true religious foundations, that inspired, decisions, discourse, policies and platforms, were somewhat avoided and concealed. An example of this is George W. Bush’s comments in relation to Gay Marriage. Unlike the Evangelicals who simply state that they oppose it on the grounds that ‘it was against God’s Will,’[2] the President stated that he opposed it because ‘marriage is an institution so fundamental to society that it should not be changed.’[3] This example outlines that the President, although opposed the view, did not clearly refer to any religious standings. However, due to the fact that he was openly religious, it is almost impossible to believe whether the view he publically offers, is not at all swayed by religious reasoning and rationale. The Bush Administration was fundamentally religious. It was based on these set of principles, and as a result, were largely supported by those who shared the same belief. This claims do not stand alone, over the years there has been a very large number of critics, all of which hold the same view that the Bush Administration was led by a body who rejects the separation of church and state. Labelled a ‘messianic militarist,’[4] George W. Bush, and the religious Right brought forward many faith based policies, which had considerable effects on the American population.

The religious right of the Bush Administration is considered to have changed or attempted to change many aspects of American life. This neo-conservative, ultra religious body within the Bush executive hold a specific set of principles and beliefs, all of which considerably blur the lines of separation between Church and State. A significant and highly controversial example of this is the ‘concerted efforts to teach creationism or its more presentable replacement “Intelligent Design” in public schools.’[5] However, the examples don’t just relate to education, there are a number of aspects whereby the religious Right of the Bush Administration promote their Evangelist perspectives. Probably the most controversial, was the topic of abortion, to which President Bush, ‘wholeheartedly opposed.’ [6]

The religious undertones of the Bush Administration were forefront and obvious. Members of the cabinet ‘spoke of overturning the Supreme Court decision in Roe V Wade which made abortion legal in 1973.’[7] This just highlights that not only was the Bush Administration open in presenting their controversial, and highly religious perspectives, but that they significantly contradicted the very foundations upon which the American model of democracy was based. The American Government as a democracy, prides itself on the notion of equality, freedom and accountability. If a Government acts solely on a religious, somewhat personal agenda and thus unable to remain impartial, how can they regard themselves as a democracy? The fact is, the Bush Administration did cross the line between Church and State, and the religious Right within the Administration was almost entirely responsible.

In order to truly highlight the perspective of the religious Right, and thus outline the political impact they had during this period, the perspectives that surfaced post 9/11, when the so called ‘War on Terror’ was in full motion, must be analysed. The American religious Right, were anti-Islam. They voiced this openly and proudly. These opinions – whether valid or not – were present throughout the entire executive. They believed that ‘Christ is the response to evil in all societies,’[8] and therefore, when this war on terror was declared, they viewed their fight as one based upon spiritual foundations. On these grounds, the Christian Right approved of torture, and grave violations of human rights. Men of great power in the American Political sphere, such as General Jerry Boykin, justified anti-Islamic thoughts and actions. He along with many other Evangelists and Neo-Conservatives held the belief that George W. Bush was put in the White House by God for the sole purpose of reaching victory in a ‘battle against idolatrous Muslims.’[9] These opinions were supported by millions of American evangelicals, thus highlighting the impact the Christian Right had within this period of time. Their views, no matter how controversial, were always supported by a large number of American citizens, thus allowing the Bush Administration to continue to act in an anti-secularist manner.

The next aspect of the Bush Administration that must be examined is what is referred to as the ‘Faith Based Initiative.’ This initiative aimed at giving public funds to religious institutions to provide social services. The Bush Administration placed this ‘Faith Based Initiative’ as a top priority of domestic policy. However, even prior to taking office, as the Governor of Texas, Bush promoted this notion. It was later created through a series of executive orders, however under the name of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, so named because the state can’t legally discriminate between secular and religious charities.[10] The Faith Based Initiative reinforces this papers contention, that the Bush Administration acted anti-secularist, and based decisions and policy platforms upon religious foundations. The Bush Administration can be considered to have acted unconstitutionally, as the Faith Based Initiative somewhat infringes on the First Amendment, that is ‘The Establishment Clause’ which states; government shall make “no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”[11] Essentially, no American should be compelled through taxation to subsidize any religion. By blurring the lines of separation between Church and State, the government is not allowing Americans the right to make their own decisions in relation to religion and matters of faith.

In order to examine and assess the influence the Religious right had within the Bush Presidency, we must look at the influences within the administration, and the viewpoint of the religious right in the time of campaigning. Ever since the early days of his campaign, when he declared in the primaries that his ‘favourite philosopher was Jesus Christ,’[12] his support was high amongst the Evangelical Christians. He was considered by this large constituency to be on a ‘divine plan,’[13] and is branded by many, including journalists, supporters and even non-supporters, as the ‘leader of the Religious Right.’ In order to fully illustrate the presence of faith within this election campaign the group, formed by Televangelist; Pat Robertson, known as the Christian Coalition must be discussed. Firstly, in 2000, Bush’s campaign was publicly endorsed by Robertson and his Christian Coalition. This was a largely influential group that this essay contends, was a driving force that lead to Bush being inaugurated. The Christian Coalition openly opposed John McCain, stating that they would go to all measures to prevent him from becoming the Republican party nominee. In fact, Robertson stated on record that; ‘if he [John McCain] became the nominee of the Republican Party, the Christian Coalition, which is a voluntary organization, would not put out 75 million voter guides and would not urge its membership to vote for anybody in the general election.’ This highlights the power of this Christian Coalition at that time, and the power Robertson possessed. It also illustrates that Bush’s campaign was heavily influenced by the Religious right. In fact, his campaign advisor, Ralph Reed, was the Executive Director of the Christian Coalition. These claims of religious connotations and underlying notions of faith not only confirm the religious sway of this administration, but the complete lack of secularity within this time in American political history. Despite the United States being based on foundations of freedom, there was obviously a contradiction and an infringement on these rights.

The scope and impact this Christian Coalition had within the United States was extraordinary. Robertson and his Christian Coalition used a variety of methods to deliver their message. He voiced his opinions on his national TV program to influence voters, issued out flyers and publicly spoke about Bush’s views on topics such as Abortion, Gay Marriage and condom distribution. The power and influence the Conservative Christians had in this election was colossal, although four million religious conservatives did not vote, there was still fifteen million religious conservatives who did. This just reinforces the fact that the religious aspect played a major role in the 2000 election. However, the methods employed to garner votes was where the true influence was shown. Their strategies were incredibly sophisticated. Rather than creating a completely Right wing perspective of Bush, which would only appeal to those following the Christian Coalition, Robertson urged his supporters not to ‘force Bush too far to the right’ as this would not appeal to a larger majority of American Citizens. He knew that once he was elected, Bush’s platform would be completely in line with his own perspectives, and as this essay will continue demonstrate, ultimately he was correct.

The policy direction of the Bush Presidency was largely influenced by the Christian right. Behind a series of platforms was underlying tones of Religious extremism, and Conservative Christianity. An example of this is the enforcement of the ‘Global Gag Rule,’ also referred to as the ‘Mexico City Policy.’ This policy places heavy constraints on foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. family planning funds. The constraints and restrictions included those F.N.G.O’s that ‘provided legal abortion services, lobbied their own governments for abortion law reform, or even provide accurate medical counselling or referrals regarding abortion.’[14] This policy, which was reimposed on January 22, 2001, which was Bush’s first business day in office and ironically ‘the 28th Anniversary of Roe V Wade the landmark U.S Supreme Court Abortion Case,’ is entirely influenced by the Religious Right. It is fundamentalist in all aspects, and an illustrious example, of how influential this religious presence was within the Bush Administration.

The influence the religious Right had within U.S politics under the George W. Bush Presidency was profound. As this essay has illustrated, the presence of this religious body was evident in all stages of the Bush Presidency. They were a driving force in the campaign stages, securing George W. Bush’s position as President, and were largely influential within the policy direction taken by this administration. On review, it is accurate to state that the U.S Government during the George W. Bush Presidency definitely did blur the lines between state and religion. There was a contradiction of constitutional rights, and an anti-secularist presence throughout the entire administration.

References

  1. Barker, David C., Jon Hurwitz, and Traci L. Nelson. 2008. “Of Crusades and Culture Wars: “Messianic” Militarism and Political Conflict in the United States.” Journal Of Politics 70, no. 2: 307-322. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 27, 2014).
  1. George, Susan. ‘Hijacking America: How the religious and secular Right changed what Americans think.’ Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA : Polity. 2008. Pg 28.
  1. Kaplan, Ester. ‘With God on their side: how Christian fundamentalists trampled science, policy, and democracy in George W. Bush’s White House.’ New York : New Press: Distributed by Norton. 2004. Page 39.
  1. Kenneth D. Wald Allison Calhoun-Brown. ‘Religion and Politics in the United States.’ Lanham, Md. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007
  1. Priscilla Smith, Kathy Hall Martinez and Tzili Mor. ‘The Global Gag Rule: A Violation of the Right to Free Speech and Democratic Participation.’ Human Rights, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Summer 2002), pp. 12.
  1. Ribuffo, Leo P. “George W. Bush, the ‘faith-based’ presidency, and the latest ‘evangelical menace’.” Journal of American and Canadian Studies 24 (2006): 17+. Academic OneFile. Web. 27 May 2014. Page 17
  1. The Economist. “A hot line to heaven; George Bush and God.” 18 Dec. 2004: 39(US). Academic OneFile. Web. 26 May 2014
  1. “The Constitution of the United States,” Amendments, Amendment 1, ‘The Establishment Clause.’
  1. Julian E. Zelizer, ‘The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment.’ Princeton University Press (September 13, 2010) Page: 229
  1. Bush has new role: de facto leader of the religious right. (People & Events).” Church & State 55.2 (2002): 15. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 26 May 2014.

[1] Ribuffo, Leo P. “George W. Bush, the ‘faith-based’ presidency, and the latest ‘evangelical menace’.” Journal of American and Canadian Studies 24 (2006): 17+. Academic OneFile. Web. 27 May 2014. Page 17

[2] “A hot line to heaven; George Bush and God.” The Economist 18 Dec. 2004: 39(US). Academic OneFile. Web. 26 May 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Barker, David C., Jon Hurwitz, and Traci L. Nelson. 2008. “Of Crusades and Culture Wars: “Messianic” Militarism and Political Conflict in the United States.” Journal Of Politics 70, no. 2: 307-322. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 27, 2014).

[5] George, Susan. ‘Hijacking America: How the religious and secular Right changed what Americans think.’ Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA : Polity. 2008. Pg 28.

[6] Kenneth D. Wald Allison Calhoun-Brown. ‘Religion and Politics in the United States.’ Lanham, Md. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007

[7] George, Susan. ‘Hijacking America: How the religious and secular Right changed what Americans think.’ Page 58

[8] Ibid. Page 134

[9] Ibid. Page 136

[10] Ester Kaplan. ‘With God on their side: how Christian fundamentalists trampled science, policy, and democracy in George W. Bush’s White House.’ New York : New Press: Distributed by Norton. 2004. Page 39.

[11] “The Constitution of the United States,” Amendments, Amendment 1, ‘The Establishment Clause.’

[12] Julian E. Zelizer, ‘The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment.’ Princeton University Press (September 13, 2010) Page: 229

[13] “Bush has new role: de facto leader of the religious right. (People & Events).” Church & State 55.2 (2002): 15. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 26 May 2014.

[14] Priscilla Smith, Kathy Hall Martinez and Tzili Mor. ‘The Global Gag Rule: A Violation of the Right to Free Speech and Democratic Participation.’ Human Rights, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Summer 2002), pp. 12.

 

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