Welton Gaddy, president of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance and pastor of a liberal Baptist church in Monroe, La., has gotten into a spat with La. Gov. Bobby Jindal over the latter’s practice of helicoptering up to north Louisiana of a Sunday at state expense to attend services and press the flesh at one or another evangelical church. Could it be that Jindal, a Roman Catholic, is shoring up his conservative Protestant base preparatory to his run for reelection?
Whether gubernatorial gadding about can be distinguished from gubernatorial politicking is a question that only scholastic philosophers can be confident answering. One can be more confident, perhaps, suggesting that it is healthy for neither religion nor politics when politicians make a habit of meeting the citizenry in houses of worship. But be any of this as it may, it is hard to see how Jindal has violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Actually, Gaddy doesn’t actually accuse him of that. What he says is that Jindal has committed “a violation of the United States Constitution’s promise of religious
freedom which has been a critical contributor to the vitality of
religion in our nation.” I don’t see how a visit from the governor violates anyone’s religious freedom, though doubtless there are congregants who would like to be free from appearances by politicians while engaging in weekly worship.
Jindal’s churchly jaunts were reported in the Baton Rouge Advocate, which did a stellar job nailing down the dates and places, as well as rounding up quotes from some of the folks on hand. Among the latter, the most telling came from Rev. Bill Dye of the North Monroe Baptist Church, which Jindal visited July 5, and which is three miles up the road from Gaddy’s church. Dye, reports the Advocate, said the visit “helped his congregation see that a practicing Catholic can be an outspoken evangelical.” The 2008 Trinity American Religious Identification Survey showed that 18 percent of Catholics consider themselves “evangelical or born-again Christians”–disproportionately so in the South. We now see that at least some Southern evangelicals are prepared to consider them that too.