Religion too important in 2008 presidential elections

September 26, 2008 — by Brian Tsai

Throughout the 2008 presidential elections, candidates have made religion a key issue. Democrats have held numerous conventions discussing the candidates’ religions. Republicans have cast doubt over Barack Obama’s Christianity and based many of the platform’s core concepts on religion. Religion, however, should not find its way into the presidential elections because of the need for separation of church and state.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the Framers of the Declaration of Independence, cited each citizen’s right to “freedom of religion” from the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in a letter to the Baptists. He ultimately believed government should play no role on religious issues.

If the United States believes in this concept, then people should apply separation of church and state to elections. Citizens must realize that the president should not incorporate his religious beliefs in any type of legislation. Laws made with any religious basis would force others to abide by religious beliefs they disagree with, contradicting freedom of religion.

Thus, a candidate’s denomination should not be a voting issue, as it is unrelated to his job. Any attempt to combine religion with politics is unconstitutional. One might even say that a president without religion is preferred, since he or she will not have any religious biases or prejudices to influence them in decision-making.

President George W. Bush is the chief example of someone who has mixed religion with politics. He has very much governed from his religious beliefs, advocating abstinence education, opposing stem-cell research, abortion and gay marriage and justified the Iraq invasion with his faith. An approval rating around 28 percent marks the end of his presidency, which may have been largely contributed by citizens who are fed up with abiding by his religious policies. As presidential candidates Obama and John McCain are trying to distance themselves from Bush, they should avoid Bush’s religious policies in order to achieve success.

Despite the clear motives of the Framers to separate church and state, many Americans still consider religion when it comes to the presidential elections. The American Religious Identification Survey in 2001 revealed that 85 percent of Americans were religious, showing that a secular lifestyle is now frowned upon. A Gallup poll conducted in 2007 showed that 53 percent of Americans would not vote for a generally well-qualified atheist presidential candidate.

To separate religion from the presidential elections and politics, more focus on separation of church and state in social studies courses throughout America would help. Religious groups should also refrain from being politically active, while presidential candidates themselves should not advertise their religion in the hopes of gaining votes.

Presidential nominees, however, still continue to incorporate their religion while campaigning, overrating the importance of religion in the 2008 elections. Religion should play no role when it comes to government, an ideal supported by Jefferson and the First Amendment. As an election whose theme is Change, it seems that Americans are still holding on to the old-way of thinking: that religion is a must.

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