Saturday, September 20, 2008

Religious Test for Sarah Palin? Barack Obama?

Have you noticed how much "news" there has been about the religions of Sarah Palin and Barak Obama? But does this belong in the news? Is it a proper topic of conversation in a Presidential /Vice-Presidential race?

There a couple distinct twists on the topic. The first is whether political leaders are allowed to use their religious values to make decisions. This one is usually applied to Gov. Palin, with the assumption that her pro-life views are due to her evangelical beliefs, and with the further assumption that such an influence is unconstitutional. Most of our Founders were influenced by their religious beliefs. Religious leaders of the time were a huge influence on the anti-slavery movement. Presidents offered prayers for our nation and implored citizens to do the same. In any case, dozens of posts on this site demonstrate that the U.S. Constitution does not prevent a person from using prayer or religious beliefs to help them with decisions.

The other twist is suspicion about a religion that might make one uncomfortable. Many suspect Obama of hiding Muslim beliefs or think that Palin's church is far too conservative and fundamentalist. I am a legal voter. I know the Constitution says there can be no religious test for the Presidency. So I could vote against Obama because I think he harbors Muslim beliefs. Or I could vote against him because of the Christian church he attended and the particular teachings found there. If I were a Muslim myself I could vote for him because I think there was a Muslim influence in his background. I could vote against Palin because my Lutheran background (that is, moderate) could make me uncomfortable with the nature of her faith. Or I could vote for her because I admire her convictions that are probably founded on religious beliefs. None of that thinking would be unconstitutional, even though there may be some inappropriate or even bigoted thinking there.

The Constitution says there can be no religious test for candidates. But that means an official test, not the "test" of public opinion. If you are for or against any candidate for religious reasons it is your personal right. Most people I know will make their decisions based on a variety of reasons, and religion may be part of that for some people. I don't think I know anyone who would make religion their only reason for a preference, but it would be constitutional for them to do so. The purpose of the Constitution was to keep power in the hands of the people whenever it was possible. The Founding Fathers hoped our citizens would be religious, moral, well informed, and educated, which would help them make decisions properly.

Consider these words from House Resoution 888 [boldface is mine]:

Whereas in 1789, Congress, in the midst of framing the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, passed the first Federal law touching education [the Northwest Ordinance], declaring that "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged"

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