COLUMBIA — Not long ago, a candidate vying for a seat on the Columbia School Board revealed that she wanted to bring Christian values to our education system, causing a new ripple in Columbia’s religious and nonreligious communities.
Amendment 2, August’s most controversial ballot issue, passed with an overwhelming 84 percent of the vote. Two issues are now in discussion: 1) Did the language on the ballot mislead voters?, and 2) Does the new amendment to the Missouri Constitution violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause?
On Monday, St. Louis’s KMOX reported that, "Congressman Todd Akin (opened his speech by thanking) God for hearing the prayers of his supporters and granting him victory in Missouri’s Republican U.S. Senate primary."
God did not vote yes on Amendment 2 or direct the voting mass to choose Rep. Akin as the GOP candidate for Senate. If God did have a hand in the election, would not Akin and Amendment 2 have won with 100 percent of the vote? Both had better campaigns, more money and used emotional ploys to garner votes. That both are current darlings of the Tea Party movement did not hurt either.
Religion used as an American political weapon began with the presidential election of 1800 between John Adams, a Unitarian, and Thomas Jefferson, sometimes called a deist and who self-described himself as an "Epicurean." Fears were that Adams was going to make Christianity America’s official religion and that Jefferson would outlaw all religion. Both were false claims.
Edward Larson’s title, “A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign,” could easily be changed to 2012. Only the names need to be changed.
John Kennedy said it best in 1960 when his Catholicism was questioned by the various Christian movements.
“I hope that no American will waste his franchise and throw away his vote by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation. It is not relevant.”
The argument of a candidate’s morality is relevant. The argument that one cannot be moral without a fear in God and only men and women who believe in God should be elected to public office is false.
Akin and others stating their religious preference in a political campaign is not to be questioned. Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” It does not negate the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedoms of religion and speech, nor does it limit the criteria used by the voter.
Yet, a statement of one’s religion, especially membership in one of the more than 200 Christian sects in the United States, has become a must for any candidate.
The problem is the possible discrimination of those of the minority religions and atheists. In a June poll, Gallop provides some interesting insight to religion and politics. The acceptance of a Christian (which includes Catholics) or Jewish candidate is well over 90 percent and Mormons at 80 percent. Then a cliff.
Muslim candidates are accepted 58 percent of the time, a decrease from the 87 percent in 1999. This decrease may be based on two factors: a distrust of Muslims since the 9/11 attacks and an ever increasing attitude that Islam is not a real religion. A point of fact, Islam is a religion in the same vein as Judaism and Christianity and its members pray to the same God.
The acceptance of an atheist candidate by voters is 54 percent, an increase of 300 percent in my lifetime. Maybe a religious criterion is being questioned. Maybe the United States is in a better economic position.
Is one’s religion really relevant? Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and many religious organizations argue no. They say that within our pluralistic society, religion and government hold separate seats and are responsible for different entities — spiritual needs and secular laws.
For the next six weeks, we will not be able to escape the bombardment of political ads. Many — in my opinion, too many — of these will stress one’s religious preference. I am making only one request.
Ask yourself, “Would I still vote for this person if I did not know her or his religious preference?”