How and when did “faith” become a political issue in the United States? Americans seldom referred to faith in political discourse until the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the word came front and center with George W. Bush’s presidency, which used the word “faith” as the camel’s nose in the tent followed immediately thereafter by the unconstitutional invasion of religion into politics.
“Faith” does not mean the same as “religion” as today’s Republicans insist. According to the American English Dictionary, “faith” refers to: 1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability. 2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact. 3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims. 4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty. 5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith. Note that #5 does not imply belief in a diety, for it could apply to any system of religious belief, such as Taoists, Jainists or Unitarian. Four out of the five meanings of “faith” have nothing to do with Christian religion.
This misappropriation of the word “faith” to refer specifically to Christian religious beliefs and practices, is highly deceptive. Bush’s political advisors thought they could mislead Americans about the narrowness of their intended meaning of “faith” as referring to “Judeo-Christian,” religious beliefs and practice. Three out of ten Americans are neither Christians or Jews. It is unlikely these Right Wing Republicans would endorse Muslims being permitted to practiced their “faith” (i.e. religion) in a public school after hours, as some Christian groups do. Would it be OK if Buddhists insisted public schools not serve meat because it violates their religious beliefs, i.e. in Republican parlance, “faith.”
We are told this is a US Constitutional matter. In a search of the US Constitution, the word “faith” used only once, in Article IV. Section 1. Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State, which has nothing to do with religion. There is no other reference to faith. None. Faith is not a Constitutionally relevant term. The insertion of religion into politics is not a matter of faith, though the Bush people thought they could use stealth to insert Christianity into politics by substituting “faith” for religion.
The only US Constitutional reference to religion is in Amendment I. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Many volumes have been written about what the framers meant by the “establishment” clause and the “free exercise thereof” clause. The “establishment” clause is generally interpreted to mean, to create, encourage or promote religion, any kind of religion. This was made part of the Constitution, because of the perpetual abuse of individual rights in England, Scotland and Ireland by state-sponsored religious groups, leading the Puritans to flee to the New World. The United States of America exists today to prevent state sponsored religion in England from violating the rights of its citizens, much as Evangelical Christians are very keen on violating the rights of Muslims and other non-Christians the US today.
The “free exercise thereof” clause means the government cannot prevent or interfere with the practice of religion in ways that do not infringe on others’ rights, to wit, the preceding phrase or other Constitutional provisions. It means the government cannot prevent Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists from constructing a house of worship on appropriately zoned property. It does NOT mean that an Evangelical Christian group can hold religious services in a public school that is funded by taxpayer money, because that would be a violation of the “establishment” clause.
I’m reminded of English blasphemy laws, irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things was held to be an offence against common law from the 16th century to the mid-19th century. For a time Blasphemy was punished by flogging, branding and the piercing of his tongue by a red-hot poker...or worse. Blasphemy was also used as a legal instrument to persecute athiests, Unitarians and others. Blasphemy appeared to apply only to beliefs of the Church of England, not other religions. The English King and Church didn’t say anything about faith. It was purely about religion, as in the US today.
Some American Christians seek to use the power of government to demand compliance by 30% of non-Christian Americans with their beliefs. Attempting to sanitize the word “religion” by calling it “faith” is another bogus marketing strategy.