Campaigns confuse good citizenship with religiosity

an op-ed piece by
Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, Aug. 15, 2004.

In the midst of a presidential campaign that has often resembled a religious
revival comes an unlikely atheist oracle in the form of Ron Reagan, the son
of former President Reagan. At his dad's funeral in June, Reagan warned of
politicians who wear faith on their sleeves "to gain political advantage."

Reagan, appearing on the June 23 Larry King Show on CNN, also said: "I'm an atheist. So there you go right there. I can't be elected to anything because
polls all say that people won't elect an atheist."

Reagan is right. An arresting political poll (Reuters, Zogby 2000) found that when voters are given a hypothetical list of Jewish, black, female, Arab-American, gay or atheist vice presidential candidates, they were least likely to support the atheist.

Ron Reagan was one of the only purely secular voices to be found at the
national convention of the Democratic Party last month. Otherwise plenty of
gratuitous "God blessing" went on. Clearly, belief in God is the ultimate gotcha issue.

The Democrats were not about to be out-amened by the GOP, whose upcoming convention is bound to couple religion and patriotism. It's a testament to the degradation of our First Amendment that it has become politically necessary for candidates to genuflect before the national altar of professed piety to be electable.

Yet the non-religious-atheists, agnostics or just plain "nones" - are a
whopping 14% of the U.S. population and growing, according to the definitive American Religious Identification Survey. Freethinkers tend to be well-educated and older, making us a group that falls into the category of
likely voters. But what politician out there has ever tried to woo the
atheist vote?

President Bush is leaving no religious stone unturned, going out of his way
to woo even the Amish vote, as he courted the Southern Baptist Convention
this summer with a live telecast from the White House and the Knights of
Columbus this month with a live appearance.

Significantly, it was that Catholic fraternal organization that was the
major proponent of turning our nation's secular Pledge of Allegiance into a
religious litmus test in 1954 by inserting the words "under God."

As is so often the case with symbolic violations of the establishment clause, the harm has been incalculable, with several generations of Americans now confusing good citizenship with religiosity.

The attempt to mix religion and politics has never been more overt. Bush
appealed in person to the pope himself in June, asking him to encourage the
U.S. Roman Catholic bishops to speak out even louder on political issues,
such as opposing gay marriage, as if they need any encouragement.

The U.S. Catholic Conference unanimously passed a statement in June that
politicians who support such matters as legal abortion are "cooperating in
evil." Several bishops around the country have announced they will deny
communion to lawmakers who consistently support abortion or gay rights
unless they recant.

This summer, the Bush-Cheney campaign even contacted 1,600 "friendly
congregations" in Pennsylvania as part of a national strategy seeking church
directories and church-held political meetings.

The mix of church and politics has gotten so out of control that the Internal Revenue Service contacted the major political parties in June, warning them to cool it in soliciting tax-exempt church votes or money. But where are the sanctions for politicians who cross that increasingly blurred line between church and state?

All of this, inevitably, calls to mind the pains former President Kennedy
took to allay fears that he would act as a Vatican puppet. In a historic
speech to Houston ministers on Sept. 12, 1960, Kennedy delivered his famous lines of assurance:

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is
absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be
Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners
for whom to vote - where no church or church school is granted any public
funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public office
merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor
Jewish - where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on
public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other
ecclesiastical source - where no religious body seeks to impose its will
directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its

Would any politician dare speak these same words today?

In his foreword to the book. "If You Had Five Minutes with the President,"
Ron Reagan offered another caveat:

"People who believe they are acting with the mandate of God, who see others who don't share their beliefs as inferior in the eyes of God, make dangerous leaders. Just ask Osama Bin Laden."

Annie Laurie Gaylor is a co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation,
which is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin


This E-News is courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, PO Box 750,
Madison WI 53701. See their entire effort on behalf of Freethinkers worldwide.