But even without the focus on the two Mormon hopefuls, the need for national
candidates to establish religious credentials is growing. With each election
cycle, it is becoming increasingly important for politicians to pledge their
faith in faith.
Basically, we’re entitled to know everything about candidates for high
office – right down to whether Coca-Cola is their preferred soft drink,
as Tim Pawlenty confirmed recently; whether they have a valid birth certificate,
and whether they’ve circulated lewd photos of themselves on Twitter.
Religious views are worth examining, we’re told, insofar as they might
influence a candidate’s decisions. But is that relevant? Let’s say
candidate A favors a woman’s right to chose an abortion, while candidate
B states that abortion violates his religious principles. Does it matter where
the position originates?
A position is a position, regardless of how it’s formed. However, yielding
to pressure from religious organizations is something different, and certainly
cause for concern.
Evaluating Huntsman’s candidacy, Paul Mero of the Sutherland Institute,
a conservative think tank in Utah, wrote, “I, like many Americans, care
that our nation’s highest leader is a person of faith. It matters to me
because it becomes a point of commonality and a measuring stick for me as to
how I might better understand that person’s politics and policies.”
That’s where the religious litmus test comes in. Many of the declared
or potential candidates appeared in Washington earlier this month at a "strategy
briefing" sponsored by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, an organization
headed by Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition. They gathered to state their
support of the group’s positions on issues such as abortion and same-sex
Back in 2008, as the campaign heated up, candidates appeared in a televised
religious examination conducted by Rev. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven
Life.” Among Warren’s questions to Barack Obama and John McCain:
What does it mean to you to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
Both men were guarded but answered dutifully. One wonders, however, if the
reply, “I’m not a follower,” would have meant instant disqualification – especially
among Republicans, where Christianity has the strongest grip.
In the last three presidential elections, voters who identified themselves
as “Protestant” or “other Christian,” voted overwhelmingly
for the Republican. Jews voted by large margins for the Democrat, as did those
who said they were “unaffiliated” with any organized religion.
In a Quinnipiac poll, only 45 percent of Republicans surveyed said they had
a “favorable” opinion of the Mormon Church. That would seem to present
a major problem for both Huntsman and Romney.
Romney spoke of the matter at great length in his campaign four years ago. “There
are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's
distinctive doctrines,” he said. “To do so would enable the very
religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should
become the spokesman for his faith.”
Yet, Romney’s insistence that “freedom requires religion,” diffused
his argument – particularly for those who have witnessed the religious-cloaked
turmoil in many parts of the world, as well as among those with no religious
Those worried about the increasing role of religion in politics should take
note of the plan by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible Republican presidential
candidate, to conduct a “day of prayer” on Aug. 6, with a strictly
evangelical Christian theme. Perry says he’s seeking “spiritual solutions” to
the nation’s problems.
Many politicians pay lip service to separation of church and state, while
kowtowing to powerful religious groups and bending over to answer questions about
religion that really should have no part in the election process.
“It is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind
of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but
what kind of America I believe in.” So said John F. Kennedy, as he sought
to become the nation’s first Catholic president.
Clearly, JFK would not have imagined, nor favored, the intense role that religion
plays in presidential politics some five decades later.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.