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Civil religion, sometimes called "ceremonial deism," describes those public rituals that express the intersection of the political and the divine.  The term connotes a generalized form of national faith that mixes piety and patriotism to the point that one can hardly tell the difference.  It is often government's use of consensus religious sentiments and symbols for its own purposes. It sometimes describes churches' use of patriotic symbols such as displaying the flag in the sanctuary or singing patriotic songs in worship.

Civil religion, in its worst form, is that mixture of piety and patriotism where the love of country becomes a secularized religion and God is reduced to little more than an American citizen.  In the end, allegiance to church and state becomes so blurred that it is impossible to tell them apart.  Civil religion results when we fail to distinguish properly between God and government.  It deifies the state and relegates God to a political pawn of American culture and public policy.

Some examples of civil religion that pervade our culture include reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, with its affirmation of "one nation under God," swearing to tell the truth "so help me God," taking an oath with a hand on the Bible, and inscribing currency with "In God We Trust."  Courts typically uphold the constitutionality of the government's involvement in these practices by minimizing the religious significance of them. Through long use and rote repetition, the words are seen to have lost the religious import they might have once had. 

At times the promotion of civil religion may cheapen religion. Practices that many Americans find innocuous may violate the consciences of others if they are seen as coercive. In some contexts, such practices may violate the Establishment Clause.  At least one justice has warned that civil religion may be unconstitutional when it intends to invoke an atmosphere of worship or to create a religious presence.  In order for it to be constitutional, it must be used in a secular or historical manner. 

Article | The U.S. Flag in the Place of Worship
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