The Times and the Democrat
Today is Presidents Day, a celebration born out of honoring two of America’s greatest leaders, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It has become a day to recognize all American presidents.
Amid the political turmoil of our time, Monday is a day to examine the foundation that made Washington, Lincoln and others great leaders.
The first president helped structure our nation. Lincoln helped hold it together. The men were very different, but shared a common bond in religion. It’s the same with almost all presidents.
It is the religious commitment of Washington, Lincoln and the other presidents that must be put into perspective. Our founding fathers and rulers of the past were religious people. They would expect our system to respect the rights of all, but never unduly interfere with the practice of religion.
A former adviser to President Richard Nixon and a native of St. Matthews, the late Harry Shuler Dent wrote about the relationship between church and state. As a Christian layman in the years following his political career, Dent wrote from a unique perspective on the subject, including what is known as “civil religion.”
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“Civil religion is a way of thinking that sanctifies a political arrangement or system of government that gives a religious image of that society to many people. It is designated as a civil, public, political or societal religion or as public piety.
“Some would say it is the general faith of a community or nation that focuses on widely held beliefs about the history and destiny of that people. It amounts to giving a political twist to religion, or vice versa Usually this is not done by a specific denomination.
“In America we call it the religion of God and country. Some people are so attached to the religion of God and country that they really emphasize country and God more than God and country. I did this once.
“Civil religion has no central authority or formal organization as such. However, ‘God’, whatever the god is, is usually the focus with the country or community. In the United States, the authority figure is usually the president. …”
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Writing in The Times and Democrat, Dent recommended a book called “Civil Religion and the President” and his own “Right vs. Wrong.” In these books, special emphasis is placed on the private faith and public accomplishments of nine presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. .
It is important to note that the books note that all the presidents have been sympathetic to religion.
As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas aptly observed in a Supreme Court decision: “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.