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Civil religion unique to U.S. presidents, speaker says

March 6, 1997

By Cindy Szelag

Lariat Reporter

The use of civil religion is a feature unique to the United States, evident in the administrations and especially the speeches of former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, a prominent author and scholar of civil religion said.

Dr. Richard V. Pierard, a professor of history at Indiana State University, spoke Wednesday as part of the 1997 J.M. Dawson lectures on church and state. The title of his lecture was 'The Evangelical Civil Religion of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.'

Civil religion is not necessarily an affirmation of the Christianity of the United States, but the sense of unity and devotion to society of the general public. These issues are reflected in religious language and symbols that bring together U.S. citizens, Pierard said.

'Politicians must use religious language to communicate effectively with their constituents,' Pierard said.

Civil religion is popular in the United States because of the strong Judeo-Christian background of the country and the personal religious beliefs of the people in it.

'Americans tend to be personally devout and strongly committed to their beliefs,' Pierard said.

President Reagan emphasized four themes regarding civil religion in the speeches he made during his presidency, Pierard said. These four themes were American exceptionalism, which is the belief that the United States is chosen by God; emphasis on the U.S. as a spiritual nation; religion in general as a requirement for healthy national existence; and the military and spiritual strength necessary to defeat communism.

Pierard said that Reagan made many references in his speeches to the American citizen's demand for a spiritual revival or renewal, and said many times that communism was evil and the opponent of U.S. civil religion.

Bush followed in Reagan's religious tradition, but emphasized his own personal prayer much more, Pierard said. He was one of only two presidents to include a prayer in his inaugural address.

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