MTSU Hosts Discussion on the Relationship Between Religion and Public Policies


Story by Destiny Mizell / Contributing Writer

The Honors College building buzzed with discussion concerning topics such as religion, public policy and government on Tuesday. 

John Vile, Dean of the Honors College and scholar of the United States constitution, explored how religion and public policies have coincided with one another throughout America’s history. Ken Paulson, Middle Tennessee State University’s non-partisan Free Speech Center director, hosted the lecture and helped spark conversation on Vile’s main points. 

John R. Vile, Dean of Honors College.

The majority of the discussion revolved around Vile’s latest book, “Prayer in American Public: An Encyclopedia” — one of roughly 50 of his works. The book analyzes religion’s impact on public policy in the United States over the course of hundreds of years until the present day. Vile also referenced another one of his books, “The Bible in American Law and Politics” a handful of times

In “The Bible in American Law and Politics”, Vile focused on the impact of religion in our government from the foundation of the United States until now. He shared, “I’ve considered my own writings as some form of prayer.” The discussion’s purpose was to shine a light on sociology in America while entertaining the use of the first amendment, which is essentially the focus of both of the books as mentioned above.

He began with a discussion on how many of our founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, were technically religious but did not practice Christianity as much as the others. He also brought up how James Madison was keen on free expression of religion. Both of these men heavily shaped the first amendment with their beliefs on a lack of religious imposition. 

Vile compared and contrasted how several presidents used to speak on religion in their inaugural addresses and how we do not include prayer in public schools nowadays. Vile described prayer as “a universal satellite…something that can divide us, but also unite us.” When asked about prayer in public schools, he stated, “It’s not the government’s business to prescribe prayer… It’s not up to public officials to tell us what to believe or how to believe it.”

Vile deemed Abraham Lincoln “one of the most profound religious thinkers” in American History because of his way of being a religious man but not praying about political affairs. As this notion was introduced, it led to a debate on how to pray for those in Ukraine right now. He advised that it is the most Christian way to pray for everyone involved, rather than praying for one side to win because it evokes harm for others. 

Going off of Lincoln’s beliefs, Vile toyed with the idea of if government officials are using religion and prayer to their advantage. He offered this to the audience as food for thought. 

The discussion ended with some Q&A between Vile, Paulson and those joining in. MTSU students were able to pick up a free copy of “Prayer in American Public: An Encyclopedia” and non-students were charged a discounted price. 

Photo via Pexels and MTSU

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