Church, state and Democratic polity

Jaime Chong/Staff

Do church and state really need to be separate? Are they at all? Many Americans are keen on the line drawn between these two spheres, regarding it as a key tenet of American values. Yet we know that the faith of our leaders can often be a discussion piece. With the possibility of a Mormon presidential candidate, this dialogue is renewed.

Half a century ago, it was no secret that President Kennedy was Catholic. Officials are often sworn in with a hand on a Bible for government posts, and when Rep. Keith Ellison asked to be sworn in with a Koran, it caused quite a stir.

So where do we choose to draw this line? It seems that for most Americans who believe in this separation, it is important to them that state decisions not be informed by places of worship.

Where I find fault with the reiteration of the separation of church and state is that it seems to exclude the reality of the lives of many Americans. The fact of the matter is that for many Americans, faith is still an active part of their lives.

For some, this means regular attendance to a house of worship, while for others it means practicing from the comfort of their homes. Our elected officials are, ideally, representative of the American people. Sure, they have constituents to hear, staffers to inform them and special interests to A M H O T G /

satisfy, but it’s hard to imagine that their own beliefs are not a part of their leanings when they have some wiggle room. In fact, I should hope that someone I actively vote for, whose views resonate with mine, uses their personal values in their decision-making process. Their capacity to make decisions that I can be on board with is why I wanted them to be elected in the first place. When I think of the fabric of the American populace and of our varied values and beliefs, I hope that our representatives serve this public as a whole — that if somebody’s age or gender is considered in representing them, their possible religious values are also taken into consideration. Our elected officials are most effective as public servants when voters can connect with and understand their whole personality.

My Unitarian Universalist faith is absolutely a part of my understanding that same-sex marriages should be equal to “traditional” marriages, as well as my belief that health care should be universally provided for every American. I cannot separate my faith and values from my weekday life in the same way that I cannot separate my weekday activities from my time in church on Sundays — and that has an impact when I’m at the polls.

I have found that in expressing kindred faith values, the political right has recently taken the lead in comparison to the political left. As a Democrat — and a coastal one at that — I often notice an uneasiness within my political community with the idea of incorporating religious beliefs in political discourse. I have often felt that it could behoove us

to incorporate an understanding of faith in our political dialogue in order to reach out to a wider audience.

I don’t think it’s an accident or a product of demography that this has been resonating with voters on the right. For many, Democrats included, values at the polls and the pulpit are intertwined.

Should a politician ignore this in their diction, they are not espousing a staunch belief in the separation of church and state but rather implying that their constituents’ faiths, their values, are not something they’re willing to concern themselves with — and yet this effort could make all the difference.

This weekend, from March 23 to 25, for the first time, about 100 Young Democrats between 18 and 35 years of age will meet in Washington D.C. to discuss how we can explore theincorporation of faith in our politics with the guidance of guest speakers and leaders at the YDA Faith & Values Leadership Summit.

I will be attending because I look forward to meeting like-minded young people and hearing from folks who have experience with faith in Democratic politics. Even more than that, I look forward to being a part of the dialogue for my generation and forming the start of a comfortable understanding of expressing faith values in the political diction of the Democratic community.

Pegah Zardoost is a senior at UC Berkeley and the finance chair of the Senior Class Council.