Overview of religion and political races:
Religious faith has intermittently surfaced as a major factor in presidential primaries:
Religion resurfaced in 1999 and 2000 during the race towards the presidential elections. Every leading candidate, with the exception of Bill Bradley, openly testified "about their faith in God and how that would help them should they win the presidency...Republicans Keyes, Bauer, Steve Forbes and, to a lesser extent, Bush cite the Bible in vigorously speaking out against what they view as the nation's moral decay." 4 Even the Democrats got into the act. Vice-president Gore has repeatedly called himself a born-again Christian; he has often asked himself "What would Jesus do." "Elaine Kamarck, one of Gore's top advisors, told a newspaper last summer , 'The Democratic Party is going to take God back this time." 8
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State expressed concern on 1999-DEC-17 about this heavy emphasis on religion. "I don't expect that candidates or political leaders will or should forget all their religious principles when they step into a government building. On the other hand, one cannot avoid the sense that this election cycle more than any other is filled with people pandering to voters on the basis of their religious affiliation." 7
Lynn commented again later in 2000-FEB that: "Right now in Iran voters are trying to separate religion and politics. Unfortunately, here in the United States, we appear to be going in the opposite direction. Late last year, I voiced concerns about this trend. Now we're seeing how divisive this issue can be. All the presidential campaigns should immediately drop this tactic from their political bag of tricks."
Religion may well remain a permanent factor in this and future elections. One contributing factor is the large number of unresolved controversies over social policies which have a strong religious or ethical component, including: access to abortion, affirmative action, adding sexual orientation to hate crimes legislation, expanding employment discrimination to include sexual orientation, the posting in public schools of the Ten Commandments, equal rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry, gun control, etc.
Religious affiliation of presidential candidates:
Candidates for the presidency in the 2000 elections come from a variety of religious affiliations:
The Bob Jones University incident:
Bob Jones University (BJU) is a Fundamentalist Christian college in Greenville SC. 1 It has had an interesting history:
The school has traditionally invited conservative politicians and candidates from the Republican Party to address students for many decades, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and Jack Kemp. They did not invite John McCain; Bob Jones III said that McCain is not conservative "to our way of thinking...he could very easily have the Democratic label upon him..." During the 2000 campaign, the students heard talks by two candidates: Dr. Alan Keyes delivered a speech that was critical of the university's policies and opinions. Gov. G.W. Bush also gave a speech, but was not critical. Later, on The Late Show with David Letterman, he commented "I missed a chance. I should have stood up there and said, listen, if you're going to bash Catholics, I'm going to come after you...That's the way I feel. I've got a good record in Texas about being -- bringing people together. I've got a good record, as you mentioned, of being a uniter not a divider." McCain was critical both of BJU and of Bush for agreeing to speak at the university. McCain said that if he had been given the opportunity to speak there, he would tell the school "they ought to get out of the 16th century and into the 21st century." In calls made to Michigan voters McCain's campaign personnel said that Bush "stayed silent [about] anti-Catholic bigotry...[while] seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists." Bush wrote a letter of apology to Cardinal O'Connor, saying: "On reflection, I should have been more clear about disassociating myself from anti-Catholic settlements and racial prejudice. It was a missed opportunity." 2,3
McCain attacks Bush & the Religious Right:
On 2000-FEB-28, Senator John McCain, Republican presidential candidate, made allegations about front-runner Texas Governor George W. Bush. He alleged that Bush had tied himself to leaders of the Religious Right who, he said, peddle intolerance and division. McCain said in Virginia Beach, VA: "Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate..."They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them," McCain said, adding that he would take steps in office to restrict abortion." He said that: "I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore. Unfortunately, Gov. Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore," There appears to be little or no difference between McCain and Bush on abortion access. However, during the Illinois campaign, Pat Robertson allegedly financed a campaign to make mass random phone calls to voters, suggesting that a vote for McCain would result in more babies being aborted.
McCain's attack seems to have backfired. On MAR-7, called "Super Tuesday," presidential primaries were conducted in some very populous states (CA, OH, NY, etc). During exit poll interviews, most of the people who said that they were influenced by McCain's comments, had voted for Bush. McCain ended up with the support of relatively few delegates, compared to Governor Bush. He withdrew his candidacy on MAR-9. Rosie DiManno noted that TV commentators speculated that "McCain had sacrificed much significant popular support with the hard-right Republicans he needed to lure, while at the same time cultivating no further affection among the populace that was already on his side." 6
Illegal actions by some churches:
According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State there have been a number of congregations which have intervened in the presidential primaries in spite of federal tax law that forbids such activity:
Associated essay on this web site:
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