Thursday, March 01, 2007

Guest Blogger: Carrie Roush

Carrie Roush is a senior political science major at Dickinson College in Carlisle and is a community organizing intern with the ACLU of PA this semester.

Voting based on religion

Contrary to popular belief, we here at the ACLU do not hate religion. In fact, at its core, the ACLU believes that all religious beliefs should be treated equally and fairly, which is why it fights to protect federal and state neutrality towards religion by mounting political campaigns and supporting legal action that question government.

It might seem rather strange, then, that I have chosen to speak up in defense of one particular set of religious beliefs in this blog. Religion in American politics has always been sort of an odd duck in the realm of economically-developed, democratic nations who espouse no state-sponsored religion; if we tout the "separation of church and state" doctrine, then why is a presidential candidate's religious beliefs such a big deal?

Case in point: Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts is a practicing Mormon, who "doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't swear. His wife said that, even in private, he never raises his voice.". Sounds like a pretty upstanding guy. (Except for that whole anti-choice, anti-gay marriage thing.) But according to recent poll data—including one released as early as November 2006 by independent polling firm Rasmussen Reports—have reported numbers as high as 43% of Americans stating that they would "never even consider" voting for a Mormon candidate.

While this may not strike some as prejudicial—even though a lot of Americans don't even really understand what Mormonism is—think about what this would mean for any other "minority" candidate. What if the same information were to be released regarding a black candidate? Or a woman candidate? (By the way, there's officially one of each in the running for a 2008 bid.) "Never even consider?" Those are some pretty strong words. I can guarantee you that every major news network would've been all over the story had 43% of Americans decided that they would "never even consider" voting for a particular candidate based on race or gender.

The federal government may not be legally barring Mormons from the presidency, but it seems more than just a little suspicious that in the 218 years of the executive, there has only been one non-Protestant president (JFK, for you history buffs). And while it may, ultimately, be a cause of prejudices in the American public itself, it just seems unfair that we recognize that it is not appropriate to discuss race or gender in this way, but it is perfectly acceptable to voice such strong prejudices against one for his religious beliefs. When it comes down to it, a president should be able to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster if he so chooses, as long as he is competent and doesn't push his religious beliefs on the American public. (I'll reserve the obvious comments regarding our current president.) And so, a note to Mr. Mitt Romney: I may not agree with you politically, but keep on keepin' on. It'll at least make for an interesting primary season.



Blogger Atheism Quotes said...

I've had this conversation with many Christians, and what it boils down to is that they don't trust anyone who doesn't follow the "Christian" beliefs outlined in the 10 commandments. Ignorance plays a huge part in this to be sure, especially since things like "don't kill" aren't original to the commandments.

As an atheist, I've been told that I just couldn't be trusted because Christians don't believe that I can be a moral person without subscribing to their set of beliefs.

So I'm not surprised that a Mormon is mistrusted by so many people. Many of these people believe laws should be passed for each and every commandment, so why should they trust someone who doesn't believe that Christianity should be forced down people's throats?

Loving, accepting, and open-minded they ain't.

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome comments, Carrie. You might have mentioned that even before the Bill of Rights was adopted, we had a protection for freedom of religious choice in the Constitution. Article VI, paragraph 3, says, in part: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." In other words, no one can be disqualified for public office in the US on the basis of what his or her religious beliefs, or lack of them, may be. Sad to think that as many as 43% of Americans may not be on board with that simple but profound sentiment.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't freedom wonderful? There is freedom of religious choice or the choice of no religion. Why is it sad that 43% of Americans make the choice to stand by their moral beliefs? We all have that right to make a choice. Trust needs to be earned and without personal knowledge of our candidates, we base our acceptance of them on their words, actions & ultimately a common belief system. Religion is just one way we connect with a person, just as race and gender are connecting factors.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Atheism Quotes said...

The biggest problem with your "connecting factors" is quite simply what Carrie mentioned in her column: if 43% of people said they would NOT vote for someone because of their skin color, it would be an outrage.

Why is it that religious discrimination is ok? Why is it that just because someone follows the same book you do, you assume that makes them a good person, and anyone who doesn't, is NOT a good person?

I believe people should believe what they want to. But when it affects my family's life because people are foisting their personal beliefs on the country that I have a problem. There are too many instances cited here and other places where "good Christians" have the "we're the majority so we can do what we want" attitude. We have the Bill of Rights to protect us from the tyranny of the majority. Some things are too important to leave up to the majority to decide. Most people supported slavery at some point, but that doesn't mean it was ever right, or excusable.

Just because 43% of people are close-minded bigots doesn't make it ok. Believe what you want, but at least recognize that writing someone off becuase they don't follow your own flavor of religion is simple bigotry.

Acceptance goes both ways. You want us to accept your religion, then you need to accept others' as well.

8:13 AM  
Blogger radar pangaean said...

Yes, it is bgotry to write some one off for their religious beliefs, but it is arrogance to assume that any of us are permitted to determine what factors otehr people choose to use to make their voting decision.

That's what democracy is about. I am also an atheist. I would also be hurt by this prejudice, but that doesn't mean i think that gives me the right to dictate selection criteria to anyone else for their vote.

I wil disagree with their decision. I will assert that people who do so are closed minded and denying themselves the opportunity to be well erved by the best qualified public official. But that's as far as it goes.

Their vote, their choice, and their choice how they make that choice.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

Maybe I'm off here, but I think the overall point is a little bit of everything that's been said above. Of course, people have the freedom to vote based on factors of their choosing. Equally, religious bigotry is something that we'd like to see people move beyond in this country, so it is distressing that such a large number of people would not vote for someone based solely on his/her religion.

Andy in Harrisburg

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the abstract, I don't care what religion a candidate practices. It's irrelevant. At the same time, given the public posturing of some public figures—Tom Delay, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Roy Moore, Sam Brownback, or Rick Santorum for example—I doubt I would ever vote for them, were they to run, for one simple reason: their religious views. Some may call my views "religious bigotry", but in my view I see it as opposition TO religious bigotry. You see, I think people like Dobson, Falwell, and Moore are bigots whom we have to counter, strongly. Dobson, Falwell, Moore, Brownback, and the like are greater threats to this country's health and welfare than Islamic militants. To insure the continued health of the Bill of Rights, we need to keep them out of the public sphere.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Trust needs to be earned...

Basing trust on professed religious beliefs is extreamly stupid. There is no objective test for one's TRUE religious beliefs, and an untrustworthy politician will tell you only what you want to hear.

If a politician were to tell you, flat out, "I'm an atheist," that would be the one pol in the world worthy of at least a bit of trust!

Unless, of course he was giving a speach at an atheist's convention!

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Histroical note: The above argument against religious faith as an indicator of trustworthiness and the profession of atheism as an almost sure sign of being trustworthy was originated by Jermey Bentham arguing against prohibitions on athiests giving testimony in court.

8:23 PM  

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