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JAMES EARL CARTER, JR.
[Jimmy Carter Library and Museum]
39th President (1977-1981)
Education: U.S. Naval Academy
Occupation: farmer, writer
Political Affiliation: Democrat
Religious Affiliation: Baptist
Summary of Religious Views:
Jimmy Carter, a self-described born-again Christian, is by all accounts very devout, and engaged in missionary work in the United States. He attended church frequently while in office, and discussed religion with a number of heads of state. He is presently a Deacon of his church, and teaches Sunday School 35 to 40 times a year.
Views on Religion & Politics:
Carter's religious views inspired and guided much of his political activity. Carter strongly supports the separation of church and state, in line with the traditional and historical position of the Baptists in America.
"I believe in the separation of church and state and would not use my authority to violate this principle in any way." -- letter to Jack V. Harwell, 11 August 1977
"Thomas Jefferson, in the original days of our country, said that he was fearful that the church might influence the state to take away human liberty. Roger Williams, who created the first Baptist church in our country, was afraid that the church might be corrupted by the state. These concerns led to the first amendment, which prohibits the establishment of any official state church, and on the other hand, in the same sentence, prohibits the passing of any laws that might interfere with religious freedom.
"Separation is specified in the law, but for a religious person, there is nothing wrong with bringing these two together, because you can't divorce religious beliefs from public service. And at the same time, of course, in public office you cannot impose your own religious beliefs on others.
"I have never detected nor experienced any conflict between God's will and my political duty. It's obvious that when I violate one, at the same time I violate the other. " -- remarks to the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission., Atlanta, Georgia, 16 June 1978
Q. "Mr. President, the Helms amendment to the education bill calls for the opportunity for voluntary prayer in public schools and other public buildings. That's obviously going to be a constitutional issue. Do you see it as unconstitutional?"
THE PRESIDENT. "I won't try to judge. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know. The Constitution, I think, has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in such a way that students should not feel a constraint to pray while they are in a public school. And as a Baptist, not particularly a President, I agree with that. I think that prayer should be a private matter between a person and God.
"There are constraints that are placed on students other than ordering a child to pray. If everyone else in the classroom is engaged in public prayer and doing it voluntarily, for a young 7- or 8-year-old child to demand the right to leave the room is a difficult question to answer. But in general, I think the Government ought to stay out of the prayer business and let it be between a person and God and not let it be part of a school program under any tangible constraints, either a direct order to a child to pray or an embarrassing situation where the child would feel constrained to pray.
"It's a difficult question to answer. And I don't know if I have given you an adequate answer." -- question-&-answer session with editors & news directors, Washigton, D.C., 6 April 1979
Q. "As a born-again Christian, Mr. President, what is your position on prayers in public schools?"
THE PRESIDENT. "My preference is that the Congress not get involved in the question of mandating prayer in school. I am a Christian; I happen to be a Baptist. I believe that the subject of prayer in school ought to be decided between a person, individually and privately, and God.
"And the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue. And I personally don't think that the Congress ought to pass any legislation requiring or permitting prayer being required or encouraged in school. Sometimes a student might object even to so-called voluntary prayer when it's public and coordinated. It might be very embarrassing to a young person to say, 'I want to be excused from the room because I don't want to pray.'
"So, I don't know all of the constitutional aspects of this very difficult and sensitive of questions, but I think that it ought to be an individual matter between a person and God. " -- press conference, Washington, D.C., 10 April 1979
Q. "Here's my question. We know that you are a born-again Christian. Do you feel that your spiritual life has suffered because of the incredible pressures of your job?"
THE PRESIDENT. "No. I believe very deeply as a Baptist and a Christian that there ought to be a proper separation of the church and the state, and I've never let my beliefs interfere in my administration of the duties as President. But I've never found any incompatibility. I pray more than I did when I was not President, because the burdens on my shoulders are much greater than they were when I was a Governor or when I didn't hold public office.
"This Nation is one that's been acknowledged by our Founding Fathers since the first days of the idea to be founded under God. 'In God We Trust' is on our coins. It's not a bad thing for Americans to believe deeply in God, but the fact is that the Constitution gives us a right to worship God or to worship as we choose. And the Congress cannot pass any law respecting the establishment of religion.
"But my own personal faith and my personal belief is stronger now than it's ever been before. I pray more than I did, and I don't find any incompatibility between being a Christian, on the one hand, and being President of this country, on the other. " -- question-&-answer session at a townhall meeting, Independence, Missouri, 2 September 1980
September 2nd, 1980
"Despite what I consider to be a constitutional and biblical requirement for the separation of church and state, I must acknowledge that my own religious beliefs have been inextricably entwined with the political principles I have adopted." -- Our Endangered Values, pp. 5-6, 2005
"I was born into a Christian family, nurtured as a Southern Baptist, and have been involved in weekly Bible lessons all my life, first as a student and then, from early manhood, as a teacher." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 16, 2005
"One of our most fervent commitments was to the complete separation of church and state. This was an issue of great importance, and we studied Christian martyrs who had sacrificed their lives rather than let any secular leader encroach on religious freedom. Although individual Christians (including my father) were free to take part in public affairs, we abhorred the concept of church congregations becoming involved in the partisan political world. We also believed in religious freedom, compassion for unbelievers, and respect for all persons as inherently equal before God." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 18, 2005
"There has been, indeed, a disturbing trend toward fundamentalism in recent years, among political leaders and within major religious groups both abroad and in our country, and they have become increasingly intertwined." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 31, 2005
"Beginning about twenty-five years ago, some Christian leaders began to form a union with the more conservative wing of the Republican Party. Such a political marriage is in conflict with my own belief in the separation of church and state -- I would feel the same even if the marriage were with Democrats." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 39, 2005
"But more recently throughout Christendom, the admixture of social and theological issues has brought increasingly intense acrimony, and this pattern seems also to prevail among Jews and Muslims." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 40, 2005
"A major and perhaps permanent schism occurred at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, when a new 'Baptist Faith and Message' statement was adopted. Of preeminent concern to many Baptists was the deletion of the previously stated premise that 'the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ, whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures.' In effect, this change meant substitution of Southern Baptist leaders for Jesus as the interpreters of biblical Scripture.
". . . .
"The new creed was troubling enough, but it was combined with other departures from historic Baptist beliefs, including the melding of religion and politics, domination by all-male pastors, the exclusion of traditional Baptists from convention affairs, the subservience of women, encroachment on the autonomy of local churches, and other elements of the new fundamentalism. It became increasingly obvious that our convention leaders were really in conflict with traditional or mainstream Christians. After much prayer and soul-searching, Rosalyn and I decided to sever our personal relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention, while retaining our time-honored Baptist customs and beliefs within our own local church." -- Our Endangered Values, pp. 41-42, 2005
"I had always understood that we didn't need scientific proof for the existence or character of God. In fact, whenever there was adequte physical evidence to prove any theory or proposition, then we didn't need faith as a basis for our belief.
" . . .
"It seem obvious to me that, in its totatlity, the Bible presented God's spiritual message, but that the ancient authors of the Holy Scriptures were not experts on geology, biology, or cosmology, and were not blessed with the use of electron microscopes, carbon-dating techniques, or the Hubble telescope." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 48, 2005
"The existence of millions of distant galaxies, the evolution of species, and the big bang theory cannot be rejected because they are not described in the Bible, and neither does confidence in them cast doubt on the Creator of it all. God gave us this exciting opportunity for study and exploration, never expecting the Bible to encompass a description of the entire physical world or for scientific discoveries to be necessary as the foundation for our Christian faith." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 49, 2005
"There is no place for religion in the science classroom . . ." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 50, 2005
"During the last two decades, Christian fundamentalists have increasingly and openly challenged and rejected Jesus' admonition to 'render to Caesar the tings that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.' Most Americans have considered it proper for private citizens to influence public policy, but not for a religious group to attempt to control the processes of a democratic government or for public officials to interfere in religious affairs or use tax laws or tax revenues to favor certain religious institutions." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 53, 2005
"The government and the church are two different realms of service, and those in political office have to face a subtle but important difference between the implementation of the high idelas of religious faith and public duty." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 57-58, 2005
"There is obviously a widespread, carefully planned, and unapologetic crusade under way from both sides to merge fundamentalist Christians with the right wing of the Republican Party. Although considered to be desirable by some Americans, this melding of church and state is of deep concern to those of us who have always relished their separation as one of our moral values." -- Our Endangered Values, p. 64, 2005
References, Links, & Further Reading: Books, Articles, Links
Works by James Earl Carter, Jr.
Jimmy Carter, "A Nuclear Crisis," Washington Post, 23 February 2000
Kenton Clymer, "Jimmy Carter, Human Rights, and Cambodia," Diplomatic History, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2003, pp. 245-278
Leon V. Sigal, "Jimmy Carter," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 54, No. 1, January/February 1998
David F. Schmitz and Vanessa Walker, "Jimmy Carter and the Foreign Policy of Human Rights: the Development of a Post-cold War Foreign Policy," Diplomatic History, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2004, pp. 113-143
Gary Smith, Photography by Harry Benson, "What Makes Jimmy Run?," LIFE, November 1995
Robert A. Strong, "Recapturing leadership: The Carter administration and the crisis of confidence," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3, Fall 1986, pp. 636-650
D. Jason Berggren & Nicol C. Rae, "Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush: Faith, Foreign Policy, and an Evangelical Presidential Style," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 4, 2006, pp. 606-632
Robert Freedman, "The Religious Right and the Carter Administration," Historical Journal Vol. 48, No. 1, 2005, pp. 231-260
Andrew R. Flint and Joy Porter, "Jimmy Carter: The re-emergence of faith-based politics and the abortion rights issue," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 28-51
Leo P. Ribuffo, "God and Jimmy Carter," in: M. L. Bradbury and James B. Gilbert, Transforming Faith: The Sacred and Secular in Modern American History (Contributions to the Study of Religion)
, Greenwood Press, 1989, pp. 141-159
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