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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Panel discusses religion, political mix

Professors, students and other members of the Dartmouth community gathered at the Rockefeller Center last night for a panel discussion aimed at answering the question, "Does religion have a role in U.S. political discourse and campaign rhetoric?"

The panelists included Professor Peter Teachout, of the Vermont Law School, Father John McHugh, chaplain of Aquinas House Catholic Student Center, Rabbi Edward Boraz of Dartmouth Hillel and the Upper Valley Jewish Community and Professor Richard Winters, chairman of the government department.

According to Teachout, our culture is "amazingly religious" as well as pluralistic. He raised certain questions concerning the constitutionality of political candidates making references to religious beliefs and the political prudence of doing so.

McHugh stated his belief that religious influence in politics is overrated. He believes that issues such as race, gender and socioeconomic status are more influential in determining political decisions than religion.

McHugh also said that no religious group feels completely at home in a political setting, citing African American Christians, the majority of whom began as Republicans and then switched to the Democratic party. McHugh went on to say that the church has no political or economic expertise. He contended, however, that the church should evaluate how laws and policies affect people.

Boraz began by saying that religion and politics influence each other. Impeachment is a religious issue that involves two of the Ten Commandments. He also said that the women's movement -- which brought about women's inclusion in a typically male dominated area -- influenced religion.

Boraz stated that he would like to see religious values in a political debate, but that he becomes weary when the religious overtones turn toward specific religions. He believes that this "cheapens religion." Boraz cited the term "born-again" as an example of this phenomena as it excludes people who do not have a faith-based religion.

Winters told the audience that his research at the moment was based on the role of abortion in gubernatorial elections. He also stated that there was a danger of involving faith in politics because it creates divisiveness. Winters talked about how religious groups already have an advantage in the American pluralistic democratic system, because the system is biased toward well-organized groups. Winters also spoke of his unique role as a political analyst, a liberal and a Christian.

The first question asked of the panel dealt with school vouchers and how each panelist felt about that topic.

According to Teachout, the Supreme Court is now moving away from absolute separatism between Church and State to the more moderate "accommodation." This term is meant to reflect the Court's belief that money should go directly to the parents, rather than a direct subsidy to the private schools, so that they can make the choice for their children's education.

McHugh stated his belief that parents have the responsibility to educate their children and that neither the Church nor the State should usurp that right.

Boraz believes that the value of public education is in encouraging diversity among children. Boraz said that the public school system is a "great way to teach tolerance."

Winters echoed this sentiment and added that public schools provide a public arena for parents to address concerns about their children's education, and thereby to improve the system.

McHugh closed the session by addressing civil unions. He said that people need to learn how to reconcile their religious and political views so that they may make better judgements.

The event, a Religion in Politics panel discussion, was sponsored by the Rockefeller Public Issues Forum.