As many a historian have pointed out, America’s founding generation lived out their faith in the public square. Those who were Christian prayed often and publicly, and did not shy away from evoking God in public service.
In spite of that, many today continue to question whether public expressions of faith by those holding public office are appropriate. Writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, blogger Daniel Hofrenning wrings hands over words spoken by Senator Ted Cruz and at a presidential campaign rally in New Hampshire:
At one point, speaking in the fervent cadences of a preacher, he implored the crowd to hold up the nation in prayer and said that he knew that the “body of Christ” could heal this nation. Does Senator Cruz contradict the 1st amendment of the Constitution that guarantees religious freedom and prohibits the government from establishing a national religion? Cruz’s strong Christian reference suggests that Christianity is favored over other religions.
No, it suggests that Cruz is a Christian and takes his faith seriously. It suggests that he favors Christianity, as one would expect of a Christian.
Hofrenning offers an example of the conduct he would prefer, referencing an event attended by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:
He was asked about religion. He referenced his own Catholic faith, but also expressed pride that New Jersey was a state with one of the largest Muslim populations in the country. He said this religious pluralism is part of the greatness of America.
So apparently, in order to uphold the spirit of the establishment clause, one must blunt any expression of faith by embedding hat tips to other faiths. Why? How does a believer’s expression of faith, even if that believer is a public official, suggest any preference by the state?
If pluralism is part of the greatness of America, it is so primarily as a manifestation of personal liberty. What makes us plural isn’t our equal value of everything, but our diverse choice of values. Public officials should not be expected to place other faiths on par with their own. It’s okay to like your thing more than the other guy’s thing. It’s okay to say you do. And so long as each individual remains free to make similar expressions, personal preference does not suggest state preference.