In the US, any candidate for the presidency who announced that he or she was an atheist would lose. Full stop. For all its talk of a constitutional wall of separation between religion and politics, the reality in the US is that a religious test is applied by the public and the media in respect of any major elected political office. Even those non-believers who get elected to congress do so by remaining quiet about matters of faith ("those are private matters") rather than proclaiming their views. In the UK, things are quite different. The Labour Party has been led by three self-avowed "public" atheists: Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, and now Ed Miliband. The Lib Dems are currently led by an atheist, Nick Clegg. Even the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who says his Christian faith is important to him also adds that he doesn't attend church regularly.
Some think the election of Ed Miliband -- a "Jewish atheist" -- suggests that religion is now less important in British culture than it once was. An increasingly vocal secularist constituency is calling for God to be excluded completely from public life. Life would be better for everyone, they say, if we kept God out of politics: a society governed by equality and human rights legislation would be a fairer and more agreeable society than one governed by religious laws. So let's dis-establish the Church of England, remove those unelected bishops from the House of Lords, abolish the constitutional ban on non-Protestants ascending the Throne, and tell our politicians to keep their religion to themselves.
Others say this is still a Christian country and we should be proud of our religious heritage. Faith is not a private hobby, but a prophetic engagement with the world. If politics means a public debate about the moral and social values and the legislative decisions that will shape the future of our society, then God is all over those questions. The God revealed in the sacred texts of the world's great faiths is concerned about every aspect of his creation's life: from climate change to animal welfare, from human trafficking to children's education, from the availability of health care to income inequality. Read the Sermon on the Mount and you encounter a manifesto for the transformation of social life. Jesus cares about equality, the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, the weak - about those too easily forgotten in a society dominated by greed. Thus, the followers of Jesus have both a right and a duty to stand up for those values, because they believe those values will create the best kind of society: a society that functions like a family, where citizens become like brothers and sisters, where strangers are treated like friends. If those followers happen to be politicians, they should feel free to share their faith-commitments with the public. In fact, doesn't the public have a right to know if their political leaders' decisions are partly shaped by their spiritual values?
On this week's Sunday Morning Live
(BBC One, 10am), Susanna Reid and her guests will debate the relationship between faith and politics. It can be a heady mix, a dangerous brew; but it can also produce community leaders like Martin Luther King and Christian politicians like Barack Obama. So, should we keep God out of politics? You can join the debate live by web-cam, telephone, email or text message: for details, click here
. Also on this week's Sunday Morning Live, you can have your say on whether we should only allow English-speaking immigrants and whether abortion is sometimes the right thing to do.