The Honorable Barack Obama
The Honorable Michele Bachmann
Mr. Herman Cain
The Honorable Newt Gingrich
The Honorable Ron Paul
The Honorable Tim Pawlenty
The Honorable Mitt Romney
The Honorable Rick Santorum
Dear President Obama, Rep. Bachmann, Mr. Cain, Speaker Gingrich, Rep. Paul, Gov. Pawlenty, Gov. Romney and Sen. Santorum:
As a Baptist minister and as a patriotic American, I have been deeply disturbed by the disproportionate role religion has played during recent election cycles. Indeed, at times, the entanglement between religion and politics has seemed to threaten both the integrity of religion and the vitality of politics. Watching the first debate between the Republican candidates for president, I could not help but be concerned with the extent to which religion will be used as an electoral tool and with the continued disenfranchising of American Muslims from the mainstream of American Society. Going forward, I urge all of you – Republican or Democrat – to look for opportunities to be part of the solution rather than the problem.
Protecting the Boundaries Between Religion and Government
Religion should never be used as a political tool. Campaigns should be about policies, issues that will affect how a candidate would govern and shape the lives of his or her constituents. I was pleased to hear the candidates asked about the meaning of the separation of church and state in the debate this week. I welcomed Senator Santorum’s reminder to the nation that the public square is open to both “people of faith and no faith,” that this is “what makes America work,” as all too often people of no religious faith appear to be relegated to second-class status. However, I would remind Governor Pawlenty that while the First Amendment was designed “to protect people of faith from government” doing so is also good for government.
Respecting the Inherent Rights of Every American Religious Community
Our nation was built upon freedom for all people, all faiths, to be equal with none favored over the other. Demonizing, disenfranchising, and questioning the patriotism of the American Muslim community has become all too frequent in our nation, particularly during the last election cycle; Monday night’s debate was no exception. I was deeply disturbed by Mr. Cain’s comments on Muslims serving their country in a presidential
administration which imply that there is some need for caution or concern and by the suggestion that there is a greater need to make sure a Muslim applicant will uphold the Constitution, than there is for any other applicant. We should keep radical extremists out of government regardless of their religious affiliation.
Additionally, I hope that in the future candidates and elected officials will be more judicious with comparing an American religious community to Nazis and communists. Mr. Gingrich used such a reference last night, but doing so unfortunately is no longer out of the ordinary in our political debates. I would also caution Mr. Gingrich (as I have cautioned Rep. Peter King in anticipation of similar congressional hearings) against commencing a second “Red Scare” against American Muslims.
Along the same lines, the debate over Sharia Law is unfortunate and misguided; reputable legal scholars are confident that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution is more than sufficient to keep Sharia law or any other religious law from influencing our courts inappropriately. If the most recent debate is any indication, this kind of rhetoric is not going away, but I urge you to do your part to shift the debate and defend, rather than attack the American Muslim community.
Upholding Religious Freedom and Equal Rights
Finally, I was pleased to hear Rep. Paul suggest that marriage be taken out of the hands of the government, as this is a suggestion I have made and along with a way to simultaneously protect the religious freedom of those people of faith who support same-gender marriage and those people of faith who oppose it. Indeed, far too many policy debates and decisions—particularly those affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community—are motivated and justified by the religious convictions of some who do not speak for the religious convictions of all, so that it seems our nation is now filled with individuals and groups trying to impose their faith, their morality on everyone else; that is not how this great nation works. I hope that in your campaigns, you will resist this trend and focus on the practical, rather than religious values-based, rationales for your policy proposals.
Voters have the right to know whether candidates will respect the boundaries between institutions of religion and government, as well as the role a candidate’s faith will play in creating public policy, and how a candidate will balance the principles of their faith with their pledge to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two conflict. Furthermore, the Constitution clearly prohibits using religious convictions as a qualification for public office. As Article Six states, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Political campaigns are about presenting real solutions to real problems, not engaging in a “holier than thou” competition that does nothing to illuminate those solutions. I hope that, if elected, you would uphold the religious freedom of all Americans to believe in or to reject any religious faith, as they choose. This freedom is an integral part of American democracy and promised by the First Amendment to our Constitution. I urge you to ensure that the remainder of your campaign is focused on the policy issues which distinguish you as a candidate. For more guidance on running for public office in our great multi-faith nation, I encourage you to review Interfaith Alliance’s guide for candidates, available at interfaithalliance.org/elections. Winning an election is not worth destroying the private integrity of your personal beliefs or compromising our nation’s historic commitment to religious freedom.
C. Welton Gaddy
P.S. Should you have any interest in a conversation about these issues, I would welcome an opportunity to visit with you. I am eager to see an election cycle free of the manipulation of religion, respectful of people of all religions and no religion, and helpful to advancing the constitutional vision of separation between the institutions of religion and the institutions of government, appreciation for our democracy, and a recovery of political advocacy characterized by civility. I pray that this election cycle will leave the American people better informed and more active as concerned citizens. You will play a significant role in whether or not that is the case.
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.