Catholic Church in Spain and the United States Term Paper

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Catholic church and public policy have remarked that the members of American clergy in general, without even excepting those who do not admit religious liberty, are all in favour of civil freedom; but they do not support any particular political system. They keep aloof from parties, and from public affairs. In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon laws, and upon the details of public opinion; but it directs the manners of the community, and by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state.

Alexis de Tocqueville

In making this statement, Alexis de Tocqueville sought to record religion's influence on American public life in the 1830's. Today, the intimate relations among political culture, political behavior, and church state circumstances that Tocqueville so aptly described are accurate in describing the relationship between politics and religion in the United States, and abroad.

In recent times and throughout history, politics and religion have been the source of much debate. Both religion and politics evoke strong passions. Men and women have been known to "discuss, debate, argue, demonstrate, resist, fight, and kill - or be killed - on behalf of their religious and political beliefs." Much of the debate surrounding political and religious issues is attributable to the important role of politics and religion in providing meaning to both individuals and societies alike.

Domestically, a number of recent circumstances have reinforced the importance of the relationship between religion and politics. Religion has been a highly visible factor in many of the most controversial political events in the last three decades, including the mobilization of the civil rights movement, the rise of the New Christian Right to the presence of ministers as presidential candidates, the public debate over "traditional values," and the Supreme Court's adjudication of moral conflicts and church-state conundrums. In recent history, and for centuries, the Catholic Church has been one of the most dominant and important socio-political institutions of the United States. That is, the Church has been of significant influence on controversial issues including, but not limited to abortion, divorce, same sex marriages.

Religion has been an equally important, if not more imposing force in influencing political life in countries around the world. Religious divisions have underpinned political divisions in nearly every corner of the world. Religious differences have fueled violent conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland since the Protestant Reformation. Religious differences are the genesis of perhaps the most volatile conflict in recent times between Judaism and Islam, which dates back 3,000 years in history. Differences in religious beliefs are the source of the threat of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan. These are among the most well-known and extreme cases of the impact of religion on politics in recent history.

While religious differences have been the source of civil unrest in many regions around the world, there are a handful of countries which can identify with the experiences of the Catholic Church in the United States. One such country is Spain. Throughout Spain's history, Catholicism has been an important factor in nearly all of the country's major political events. The battle between the devoutly Catholic and liberal segments of society have been the genesis of the civil wars in the nineteenth and twentieth century, and still exist to some extent today. But while Spain and the United States both share Catholic traditions, this is not the common trait which compelled me to make them the subject of my work. The determining factor in utilizing Spain and the United States in a comparative politics work emerges from the common experiences of the Catholic Church in the United States and Spain in the last three decades. Spain, similar to the United States, has experienced a resurgence of religion in politics. In both cases, the Catholic Church has had to reassert its position on social values and norms in society. While the Catholic Church in the United States has had to state and defend its position in regards to issues including morals and church and state, the Spanish church has had to reevaluate and defend its positions on issues including religion and public education, abortion, and censorship.

In my work I hope to establish a parallel between the experiences of the Catholic Church and politics in the United States and Spain through the examination of the church's role in political history and its influence in public policy. In establishing these parallels, I hope to draw inferences about the political development of the two cases. Namely, in understanding the relationship between the Catholic Church and politics in Spain and the United States, I hope to draw inferences about why two countries with different religious traditions have managed to develop politically, very similarly in recent times.

The Influence of the Catholic Church in the United States and Spain:

Comparative Study

My work will examine the role of the Catholic Church in shaping public policy in the United States and Spain from the 1970's until recent times. More specifically, I will demonstrate that religion has become an increasingly important factor in politics. I will accomplish this by analyzing the extent of the Catholic Church's influence on hotly debated issues including abortion, religion and education, and social issues including the civil rights and poverty.

On a very basic level, I have picked these countries to be the subject of my study because of their differing political systems in dealing with the separation of church and state, as well as their vastly different political histories. While I will go into much more into detail in latter sections about the separation of church and state, the political histories, and the religious compositions of the United Stated and Spain, the following sections will provide general insight into these areas.

The political system of Spain has historically combined church and state. That is, religion and politics have shared a legal and formal connection, where the church exercises influence on the state through coercion or support. Catholicism has been the dominant religion throughout Spain's history. The Catholic Church, a beneficiary of public funding and taxes, has played an active role in shaping the public education system, as well as in determining the state's position on morally or ethically charged issues.

The political system in the United States has historically separated church and state. Under the "disestablishment" policy, religious institutions and governmental institutions remain legally separated. By virtue of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the government is forbidden to show preference to any religion while, it is also prohibited from enforcing an official religion or discriminating against other religions: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." In relation to the Catholic majority in Spain, Roman Catholics are the largest community of faith in the United States, making up approximately one-fourth of the population of the United States.

While the differing role of church and state in Spain and the United States play an important role in differentiating my work from other contemporary literature, the recent political histories of the United States and Spain in the past three decades makes for an equally compelling comparison. In 1980, the Spanish democracy had only been in existence for five years. Dictator Francisco Franco served as head of state for the last 40 years, largely isolating Spain from Western political and cultural ideals, ideas and movements. In the subsequent democratic elections of 1977, 1979, and 1982, the Spanish electorate displayed their discontent for the political Right and its connections to their former dictator by electing prime ministers from Left and Left center parties. However, in recent years the Alianza Popular or Popular Alliance has managed to shed its association with Franco through a re-articulation of ideology, and ultimately become attractive to moderates and moderate liberals. Evidence of this comes from the re-election of Prime Minister Jose Aznar (since his reelection, the Opposition Party PSOE recently placed Jose Zapatero in the presidency).

The United States is not a fledgling democracy and has never been a dictatorship. However, similar to the case of Spain, the Right has also surged in popularity in the last three decades. Liberalism dominated American politics from the post World War II era to the late 1970's - a period of nearly 30 years. However, following the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the 1970's, the tide began to turn in the favor of the American Right. Ronald Reagan, emphasizing certain "conservative" economic and moral absolutes - laissez-faire economy, free enterprise, and religion as a basis for social order - was able to assemble a coherent and systematic conservative program that received widespread political support. Today the United States has a Republican president in office, preaching similar moral and economic values to those in Spain.

The religious compositions of Spain and the United States provides for another interesting point of comparison in my study. As I previously mentioned, the Spanish population is religiously homogeneous. Roman Catholics compose of 99% of the population, while the remaining 1% of the population is…

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