Civil Religion in Politics

An examination of the various ways that American civil religion has been used by U.S. presidents during times of war.

This paper looks at how, throughout the history of American politics, presidents have struggled to tread the fine line between a secular government and public faith softly. It discusses how civil religion shows up in political discourse, on the campaign trail, and most often in inaugural speeches. It explores how different American presidents have toyed with a civil religion during times of war in order to persuade the public to their viewpoint and justify war, and it focuses specifically on the Civil War, the Vietnam War, and the current war in Iraq. It also analyzes the impact that civil religion has had on American society and its roots.
“Although every presidency has used civil religion in a variety of ways, a few administrations have exemplified the use of a nondenominational national religion, especially those administrations that have dealt with America during times of war. Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, and George W. Bush during the War in Iraq stand out among a crowded history of leaders who have used civil religion in an attempt to unite and console a nation in turmoil.”