Written by Connecticut Catholic Corner Contributor Tim Siggia
"The Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." -- Constitution of the United States, Amendment 1
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, quoted above, is probably one of the most deliberately misunderstood parts of that document. Over the years, it has been construed to mean separation of church and state, a concept which, though having originated with founding father Thomas Jefferson, is in fact nowhere to be found in the Constitution itself. Jefferson first used the phrase not in any official document, but rather, in a private letter to a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut. Since then, liberal politicians, jurists, and pundits have erroneously linked the concept to the Establishment Clause, using it as justification to ban all religious expression and reference in public schools, government buildings, and public grounds -- conveniently ignoring the second portion of that clause: "nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
So is it right, constitutionally or otherwise, for Catholics to take their faith to the voting booth?
Jesus Himself gave us the answer: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." -- Matt. 22:21
But this then raises another question: What is Caesar's and what is God's on Election Day? Election Day is coming up in just a little more than two months now, and it should be giving us, as Catholics, pause for reflection. On this day, when those of us lucky enough to be American citizens of majority age are taught to consider it a civic duty to make our preferences known at the polls, might a possible answer be that in some cases -- like this one, for example -- that which is Caesar's and that which is God's might be one and the same?
Voting, in a very real way, is much like the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is not something done lightly. If done responsibly, it requires reflection, examination of conscience, and many questions. Who am I voting for? What have been his positions in the past? Are those positions reflective of Catholic teachings and Catholic values? Does this candidate support or oppose such things as abortion and euthanasia? Is he one who would preserve the Sacrament of Matrimony, or would he redefine it? Is it better or worse to vote for a non-Catholic whose positions are in line with Catholic teachings, or a nominal Catholic whose positions run contrary to those teachings?
Finally, the big question: Do we check our faith at the door when we enter the polling place? By now, hopefully, the answer is obvious. In Matthew 22, Jesus gives us the prescription on which to base not only our votes, but everything else in life we do: His first and greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Then the second: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If we follow His prescription, and take our faith with us when we cast our votes, we cannot help voting responsibly.