Sam Donaldson Warns of Excessive Influence of Religion in Government

Newsbusters and other conservatives are upset that Sam Donaldson warned about the increased influence of religion on public policy in recent years. Donaldson hedged on the actual terminology of Christian theocracy. What Donaldson is speaking of falls far short of total theocracy with government based completely on religious rule. Donaldson is correct in his warnings about increased religious influence on public policy. The transcript from the discussion on This Week is below the fold.

Donaldson was speaking most directly about Mitt Romney’s recent speech along with the emergence of Mike Huckabee as a front runner. It should also be recalled that two other Republican candidates, John McCain and Ron Paul, have also made claims that this is a Christian nation. Conservatives have increasingly been promoting a revisionist history which denies our heritage of separation of church and state and the intention of the founding fathers to create a secular government. We have a president who believes God chose him to be president and advised him to go to war in Iraq. Some have also claimed that Rumsfeld’s decisions on the war were also inspired by God.

There are many examples of the increased influence of religion on public policy. Conservative challenges to abortion rights, funding of stem cell research, intrusion in end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case, and opposition to the rights of homosexuals are the most prominent examples in recent years. Republicans have also attempted to set by legislation the moment when a fetus can feel pain regardless of the medical facts.

In education there have been the attempts to sneak in teaching on creationism (even if called intelligent design) and limit teaching of evolution. However it is not only biology that faces attacks. Religious fundamentalists attack established science on cosmology when they disagree about the origins of the universe, and object to geology when they disagree over the age of the earth. Many believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. The Bush administration has even backed religious fundamentalists who object to the geological age of the Grand Canyon, preferring the view that it was created in the biblical flood. Many Republicans insist upon teaching abstinence-based sex education in place of effective sex education.

Following is a transcript as posted by Newsbusters from This Week starting at 10:36am on December 9, 2007. Emphasis is from the posting at Newsbusters. As Newsbusters describes its mission as “exposing and combating liberal media bias” it should be noted that this was presented in an opinion segment and not presented as news. From the perspective of Newsbusters it might still be relevant for them to note cases of members of the media holding views which differ from theirs.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s turn to Republicans. Mitt Romney did give his big speech on faith in America this week. He said very clearly that he would not be taking any, he would not be influenced by the leaders in his church. But then he made a turn in his speech and listen to this:

MITT ROMNEY: The notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely as a private affair with no place in public life. It’s as if they’re intent on establishing a new religion. The religion of secularism. They’re wrong.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sam, we’ve all been talking about the echoes of John F. Kennedy. That was actually a repudiation of John F. Kennedy who, in 1960, said that the separation of church and state is absolute and that religion is a private matter.

SAM DONALDSON: That’s right and that’s far we’ve come. He talks about the public square. Now, he would say, “I’m don’t mean a Christian theocracy in the White House.” But it’s getting much, much closer. When I first came to this town, chaplains began the sessions of the Senate and the House with a prayer.


DONALDSON: People talked about the pledge of allegiance. Still do. And that was just fine. But now, religion has crept into public policy. On the floor of the Senate or the House, you hear God evoked for a tax cut or making it permanent. [All laugh] I think God is too busy to worry about those things. But Mitt Romney’s speech, I think, was very, very frightening to people, who think the encroachment into government, into the White House, or into the Congress, on religious matters, making decisions on public policy– It’s wrong.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Look at the impact he’s having right now. The cover of “Newsweek” this morning calling him “Holy Huckabee, the unlikely rise of a preacher politician.” That is the cover for their new poll showing him 22 points ahead of Mitt Romney in Iowa. 39 for Huckabee. 17 for Romney. Fred Thompson, all the rest, down into, into single digits. And, George, I’ve talked to the Romney campaign. Now, they don’t believe it’s a 22 point lead for Mike Huckabee. They do believe that Huckabee’s ahead right now and he’s on his way, unless he can be brought down and there’s plenty to bring him down with, to win this caucus on January 3rd.

GEORGE WILL: Well, 40-some percent of the Republican caucus goers are born-gain evangelical Christians.


WILL: They are going to vote for a man, evidently, who in 1998, in Iowa, in 1998 said, Mr. Huckabee said, he went into politics to take back this nation for Christ. Well, that is not a really sound general election position.

DONALDSON: He’s running as the Christian leader. He says so in his ads. And that’s just a step from saying, “I’m running as the Christian president.” Well, fine if he’s going to be a personal Christian. Jimmy Carter was, others have been. But it’s clear that, talk about a Christian theocracy in this country, many evangelical Christians believe, although they might abandon those exact words, that’s what we should have, that government should favor people who have the right and understand what God wants us to do. And that, of course, runs against not just Thomas Jefferson, but all of the history of our Founding Father’s attempts to write a Constitution which prescribes that.

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  1. 1
    Thomas says:

    The properties of a free nation are those that emerge. You cannot make this an atheist nation by fiat any more than you can make it a Christian nation by fiat.

    If this is a Christian nation, it is because that emerges from the character of the individuals that compose the nation. I have no problem with Ron Paul thinking that emerges. Nor do I have any problem with those who think that God had His hand on the formation of the Constitution.

    It is reasonable that the representatives to the government of the nation, a free nation, presumably preserved by those representatives, would be informed by their faith.

    Once we try to force a nation to become atheist or Christian, it is no longer free. The best way to avoid that is to avoid the influence of government in our lives. It should be out of businesses such as schools or licensing marriage. Those who favor such things are simply bullies who want to force their own way on the nation. The best way to effect separation of church and state is to effect the separation of just-about-everything-in-our-lives and state. To do less is to make the state anti-religion and that is not appropriate for a free nation.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    That is the most common fallacy spread by those who make excuses for violations of separation of church and state. Nobody is talking about creating an atheist nation. Everyone is free to practice (or not practice) whatever religion they choose, but their religious views should be kept separte from public policy. Historically it has been religious leaders who have often been among the supporters of separation of church and state as they recognize that this is the only way to guarantee religious freedom.

    The founding fathers wisely realized this and chose to create a secular government, as opposed to attempting to make this either an atheist nation or a Christian nation by fiat. This is not making the state anti-religion.

  3. 3
    USpace says:

    He’s an idiot. Huckabee wants to have adulterers, homosexuals and rape victims stoned to death. He also wants to make alcohol and music videos illegal, and make women 2nd class citizens and to take all girls out of school.

    Oops, my bad, that’s another ‘religion’.

    Hey, anybody but the PIAPS!

    if you’re MAD
    punish your country
    VOTE for Hillary

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