February 9, 2012
Mr. James Smack
Nevada Republican Party
PO Box 401420
Las Vegas, NV 89140
Dear Mr. Smack:
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. In the case of Nevada, I was at first pleased, and far too soon after saddened, by the manner in which the Republican caucus held on February 4 was scheduled and carried out. Though I believe you made the right decision to extend the caucus into the evening to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of those who worship the Sabbath on Saturday, I am concerned that those who arrived late to the caucus were forced to sign a statement of faith and those who would not do so were turned away.
It is unfortunate that this issue is not a new one. In the lead-up to the 2008 election, Interfaith Alliance criticized both the Nevada Democratic and Republican parties for scheduling their caucuses for a Saturday, the Jewish and Seventh-day Adventists’ Sabbath, and called for assurance that this would not happen again. For Sabbatarians, work and travel are prohibited on the Sabbath, thus barring them from participating in the caucuses since, unlike in the general election, there is no opportunity for absentee voting in a caucus.
In a country that values religious liberty, no person should ever be forced to choose between practicing his or her religion and participating in democracy. As the most religiously diverse nation in the world, the American political process must be open to people of all religious faiths and none – on equal terms. I was pleased to see Nevada officials’ decision to extend the caucus into the evening after the Sabbath had ended. Yet, by requiring those who came late to attest under penalty of perjury that they could not vote earlier for religious reasons, is to institute a de facto religious test to vote. It is also clear that those organizing the caucus did a poor job ensuring voters were aware the late vote was for religious voters only. Indeed, if I had been aware that this was the case, I would have raised these same concerns before the caucus.
The Nevada caucus is an important opportunity for the voters to play a substantial role in the presidential nominating process and exercise their civic duty. It is unfortunate that the caucus was marred by the poor implementation of what could have been a great example of a reasonable religious accommodation.
I hope that you will take measures today to ensure that this issue does not arise yet again four years from now. Thank you for your consideration.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
P.S. Should you have any interest in a conversation about these issues, and I hope you do, I would welcome an opportunity to visit with you. I am eager to see an election cycle respectful of people of all religions and no religion and helpful in advancing the constitutional vision of separation between the institutions of religion and the institutions of government.
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.