The fundamental democratic principle of separation between church and state was articulated eloquently by then presidential candidate John F Kennedy in a famous pre-election speech at Houston, Texas, in September 1960.
Kennedy spoke of his belief in an America “where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act” and in a president “whose fulfilment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation”.
This is a clearly secularist vision. It is a healthy approach to state governance which ensures that legislators make laws without reference to the doctrines of any religion. It also enables freedom of religious expression by individual citizens, because no one religion may dominate, or wield power over, state institutions.
At last week’s Kennedy summer school in New Ross, a very different vision for the role of faith in politics was articulated by Archbishop Eamon Martin, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland. He spoke of “Catholic politicians” having responsibility “to support laws which uphold the dignity of every human person made in God’s image ... from conception to death” and cautioned against politicians having “parallel lives” compartmentalised into “spiritual and secular spheres” …
… Archbishop Martin’s view that religious teaching must influence public policy represents a perspective which has overshadowed Irish society for far too long.
Continue reading @ The Irish Times.