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36 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 641 (2002)


Americans may be suffering a crisis of faith. But not necessarily a crisis of religious faith. Instead, it is a crisis of faith in elections.

This language of faith in elections—do we have faith, are we losing faith, can we restore faith—pervades our political discourse and suggests religious imagery. Examples only scratch the surface of the language of faith in elections, democracy, and the American ideal. The language is seemingly everywhere. Words, of course, take on different meanings in different contexts. But the choice to use the word faith does appear to deliberately invoke religious imagery. Words like trust, confidence, or belief could be used. Faith, at times, could simply be a synonym. But the religious imagery extends elsewhere, and there seems a stubborn insistence on choosing the word faith over these other words.

I am not a linguist. Or a theologian. Or a philosopher. So, I approach this Essay with some trepidation. Instead of popular or political comparisons of our democratic order as a type of faith, this Essay examines faith in elections as the term is used in the federal courts. It opens by examining how we might think of faith, but in a religious context (principally, the Christian faith) and a political context. It then examines four ways that courts have invoked faith in the context of elections. Three are less controversial uses: faith as attachment to a political party, faithless presidential electors, and good faith in redistricting. One is a more significant use: faith in democracy itself. This Essay concludes by suggesting there are reasons to be reluctant to use the phrase faith, both from the judicial context and the religious context, and that other, better language may be more valuable.



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