It’s unfortunate that some clergy think it’s appropriate to attack political leaders’ religious beliefs. Last week it was Franklin Graham insinuating that President Obama might be a fake Christian secretly in league with the Muslim Brotherhood. Yesterday, a Michigan pastor who introduced Rick Santorum at a campaign rally arguing that Mitt Romney is not a Christian.
CNN’s Belief Blog has the scoop:
Clark predicted that Romney’s Mormon faith will be a factor for Republicans in Tuesday’s Michigan primary, particularly in the western part of the state where evangelical Christians are expected to make up a larger share of the GOP vote.
Asked if he believes Romney is a Christian, Clark answered: “No.”
When reporters at the event asked if the former Senator shared the pastor’s view, a Santorum campaign spokesperson said no. That isn’t good enough. If Santorum has as much integrity as he wants us to believe he has, he’ll denounce this pastor’s rhetoric and apologize to Romney. Anything less is complicity in an attack on Romney’s faith.
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This weekend, Rick Santorum said that John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about his Catholic faith “makes me throw up” and “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Strong words from Santorum, who’s slipping in the polls in Michigan (which holds its GOP presidential primary today) and looking to capitalize on his position as the GOP’s “culture warrior.”
Santorum’s comments are just a continuation of the “war on religion” narrative the Right has ginned up, painting religious conservatives as victims of a secularized American society that doesn’t understand, respect, or appreciate their deeply held religious beliefs. The problem with this argument is that it’s totally bogus. Religious Americans fall on all sides of the political spectrum and true religious freedom is under no threat in our country. All citizens are able to worship freely, raise their children to adhere to whatever religious and political views they choose, homeschool their children if they see fit, and so on. (In fact, those looking for threats to the First Amendment should start with the Muslim-American communities who are facing opposition from people like Rick Santorum to efforts to construct places of worship).
Also, Santorum is trying to play into the hands of voters and pundits who erroneously view religion and politics as a zero-sum game– either we have a “strict separation between church and state” or we have sectarian religious views dominating political decisions and political leaders imposing their religious views on others. But most Americans cherish our Constitutional freedoms and the fact that the “separation of church and state” is about both protecting our government from undue sectarian influence and protecting religious institutions from undue governmental involvement. As Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect put it:
People of faith have always had an important role in American politics, and no one wants to diminish that. But public policy isn’t built on religious belief, and if people of faith want a role in the public sphere, they have to argue their position with reason and evidence, not religious dogma. This is a quintessentially American value, affirmed by nearly every president in this nation’s history.
This is a nuanced, complicated debate but the bottom line is this: people of faith don’t have to check their religious values at the door in this country; we all know that our belief systems influence the way we view the world and the role of government. This isn’t about imposing a theocratic agenda, but about bringing faith-based views into the marketplace of ideas in a pluralistic society. For Santorum to play into a tired culture war narrative with a simplistic description of the relationship between faith and politics is unhelpful to our public debates.
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