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Religion and Politics, Part 1 (uh-oh)

Uploaded: Aug 17, 2011

America is a nation founded in major part by refugees to whom religious expression was important enough to risk the perils of an ocean voyage and brave the challenges of frontier life. Freedom of religion is enshrined in two clauses of the First Amendment, which promote both its free exercise and protect against the establishment of any particular belief system as a state religion. So it is unsurprising that religion continues to play a major role in American life, including politics.

With some trepidation, I'd like to consider with you three aspects of religion in politics, one each over the next three blog entries: first, religion and the candidate, then religion and domestic policies, and finally religion in a global diplomacy context. I'm guessing that the views of this readership vary across a broad spectrum – and I'm also hoping they can be expressed here in a reasonable manner that befits the lofty topic (I would add "praying," too, but I suspect the Deity has better things to do).

My own awareness of religion-and-the-candidate dates from the 1960 presidential campaign (yeah, yeah – you kids get off my lawn), in which JFK's Catholicism was a front-and-center issue. So deep was the concern that he took the initiative and entered a Lion's Den of Texas clergymen. In a masterful speech (written by Ted Sorensen, a Unitarian by faith), he declared " I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; … and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a 'divided loyalty…'"

JFK's point was that his religion would not interfere with his judgment of those policies he'd advocate as good for the general populace. Similarly, candidate Obama was whispered to be a secret Muslim, and also faced a worry in some quarters over caustic views espoused by the minister of his Chicago church. Did then-Senator Obama's attendance at that church suggest that he subscribed to his preacher's theology?

Current GOP candidates Romney and Huntsman are Mormons, and subject to similar suspicions – a recent poll indicated that a quarter of Republicans would not vote for a member of the LDS church, on that basis. That's a big chunk of the party base that is apparently closed to their campaigns.

Those instances of candidates on the defensive vary dramatically from the approaches of other Presidential aspirants. Candidates Bachmann and Perry are playing offense with their evangelical religious beliefs – they wear their faith on their sleeves. Governor Perry recently led a prayer service for America in a Houston football stadium (thus combining two defining elements of Texas life), and Representative Bachmann routinely declares to the faithful that her faith will inform her Presidency in fundamental ways.

Now, all candidates have values (let's assume), and those principles influence their policies. How important are those candidates' religions as markers of their policy preferences? Do you think their faith Really makes a difference at "crunch time?" Would you vote for, or against anyone primarily on the basis of his-or-her stated religion? Would it matter if that religion was Buddhist, or Muslim -- or Atheist? Are you comfortable with a candidate founding her/his campaign appeal significantly on Faith?

'Tis the presidential campaign season, already -- I invite your thoughts on these subjects.

Comments

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Aug 17, 2011 at 8:49 am

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

Here's a youtube link to the full Kennedy speech: Web Link, and transcript: Web Link


Posted by [removed], a resident of Alamo,
on Aug 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Dear Tom and Editor,

News services and their polling groups have allowed a majority of USAmerican voters to celebrate the rejection of arrogant, authoritarian dogma that is the basis of the "Three Stooges'," as Perry, Palin and Bachmann, campaigns. Polling studies released in the last 10 days show that these religious candidates must illustrate separation of church and state to have credibility with a majority of voters. Further polling shows that the same candidates' linkage to the Tea Party make that association less popular than if they were atheists.

There are positive signs among a majority of voters that ignorant, arrogant dogma does not sell any candidate. So, why not step forward with in-depth journalism and simply tell this story as the reality of USAmerican voters' focus on our economy, jobs, and effective management of our global relationships.

DO TELL, please.


Posted by Jessica Lipsky, a resident of Danville,
on Aug 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Even though Kennedy's religion was quite the source of contention during his campaign, he was one of the most beloved presidents in American history. When I compare that to speculation about President Obama's faith, I have to think that there is a larger good-religion vs. evil-religion argument brewing beneath the surface.

While I don't think a candidate's faith makes a lick of difference when it comes to their efficacy as a leader, I think it makes quite the difference during "crunch time." People tend to go with what they know, and if that means voting for someone who professes a similar faith to yours, that candidate has a leg up.

Interestingly, Sen. Joe Lieberman is currently promoting a book called "Gift of Rest," in which he touts the health and spiritual benefits of observing sabbath - for people of all religions. If I remember correctly, Lieberman's Jewish religion was significantly downplayed in the 2000 election. Would he have been more or less successful if he penned this text with religious overtones during the election?

Jessica Lipsky
Editor


Posted by [notice], a resident of Alamo,
on Aug 18, 2011 at 7:01 am

For EMCEB management and editors,

Please be informed that counsel has filed claims of defamation and libel with federal agencies and publishing services based on jjjj, jjjr, and jjj commentary posted in various exchanges. It should be the purpose of each commentator in this exchange to provide further information and viewpoint on the role of religion in any candidate's or elected official's service to USAmerican voters. In posting news service research summaries with my identification [removed] or similarly specified, my purpose is to provide additional information, not my own, for consideration by your readers.


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Aug 18, 2011 at 7:56 am

No faithful Mormon would ever disobey a command from the LDS prophet, because in the eyes of the faithful, the prophet speaks for God. To disobey the prophet is to disobey God.

Given this fact, some people have reservations about supporting a Mormon candidate, despite the fact that current LDS church leaders are good people who believe in God, Jesus, and the American way.


Posted by Dirk, a resident of Alamo,
on Aug 18, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Obviously a political candidate's views can disqualify him or her for higher government office. Many people in this country, perhaps even some presidential candidates, believe that the Rapture is coming soon, possibly in their lifetimes. Can we trust someone who believes that to work on the solution of our environmental problems? Some of our presidential candidates are very concerned with forcing their particular views about moral lifestyle on everyone. For those who don't share those views, this should be disqualifying.

But I think there is another problem when candidates, or for that matter people in general hold strange religious beliefs. Mitt Romney, for example, believes that the most significant event in American history is the revelation of the true religion to Joseph Smith in the early 19th century by the angel of the Lord Moroni. He also believes that God and Jesus have physical human bodies like ours, except perfect (no warts?). Do we want someone who has such a shaky view of reality that he can believe such palpably untrue things to be the President of the most powerful (still) country in the world? Or does he believe those things? Maybe hypocrisy excuses him, and he only pretends to believe because giving up his religion would be politically disastrous. But is that better?

I could say more about the undesirability of holding wacky beliefs but will stop here. Full disclosure: I am an atheist (Tom, please note the case of the “a".) That means that spcwt, evidently, and most Americans feel that I can not be a good person.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Aug 19, 2011 at 8:19 am

Here's a link to the text of Mitt Romney's speech on religion, which goes to both spcwt's and Dirk's points: Web Link

In it, he acknowledges JFK's prior speech and states, similarly:

"I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

So take that, spcwt.

He also states:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

So, Dirk, you're right -- he might not consider you a proper patriot.

Romney later throws a bone to religious pluralism and decries the empty cathedrals of Europe (apparently he hasn't been to Rome), because it's always popular with his base to disparage Europeans. He also takes a gratuitous swipe at the GOP whipping-child ACLU, and evokes an image of his father marching with MLK -- all proving that this was indeed a political speaker in search of votes.

Anyway, in the next two postings on this subject, we'll look closer at whether a candidate can or should be expected to distance him/herself from church dogma on several social, economic and international policy grounds.


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