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Ethics vs. Religion in Government

March 27th, 2009 No comments

Richard Painter at VC:

I do not address this as a matter of constitutional law, or theology, which I leave to others. I am saying that government entanglement with religion is difficult from a government ethics lawyer’s perspective. The more entanglement there is, the more difficulty there is. Combine religion with partisan political activity, as many government officials now do, and the ethics lawyer confronts a three way mix of Hatch Act regulations, the Establishment Clause and government ethics regulations. I pointed out in an earlier post that ethics problems often begin when someone thinks he or she can wear two hats instead of one. Try three.

My comment, after a number of others noting that religion in government is more persecuted than persecuting:

I, too, see some lawyerly blindness here. Most of us get a lot more nervous about lawyers hanging around the White House than clergymen. A clergyman might pray that I be damned (though I can’t think of any real ones that would actually), but an ethics lawyer might take away my money, my job, or my liberty, using the power of the state.

Similarly, it’s a lot more threatening when someone says, “We all believe in affirmative action, don’t we— since it’s it’s racist not to and you’re all forbidden by law to discriminate” than when someone says, “We all believe in the supremacy of the Pope, don’t we– since if you don’t, you’re not a Roman Catholic.” When people call their faith-held belief “ethics” they’re a lot more dangerous than when they call them “religion”.

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