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hossman's avatar

Do you find it hypocritical Lieberman, Romney and Bush were criticized for being political candidates with religious beliefs, but Ms. Clinton and Obama seem to be getting a pass?

Asked by hossman (3261points) August 21st, 2007

The argument was made that political leaders were somehow disqualified by having strong religious convictions. Yet we hear very little about Ms. Clinton and Obama's publicly disclosed Protestant backgrounds, and at least for Barack, religious convictions. Why the different standard for these two?

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22 Answers

Poser's avatar

I don't know if a non-Christian can become president, at least in this day and age. Speaking from a southern conservative evangelical Christian background, Clinton's faith is really only for show. I think most evangelical types believe this based solely on the abortion issue.

I guess the answer lies in your question: "Strong religious convictions." Clinton and Obama don't seem to base their lives and/or decisions around their religious convictions.

hossman's avatar

Seems to me sometimes that the candidate needs to claim to be a Christian, needs to sometimes at least act like they're Christian, but everybody needs to believe the candidate is just faking it. If the candidate really means it, then they "shouldn't be running."

archer's avatar

everything the news media propaganda arm of the democrats do is hypocritical, predictable, and irresponsible.

xgunther's avatar

LOL. The only god that they all worship is themselves.

Perchik's avatar

I think the difference is that Clinton and Obama do not use their religion as a basis for their political policy and stance on issues.

Hawaiiguy's avatar

I seem to remember a pretty well written doctrine that had something in it about seperation of church and state. Not sure why this comes up every time we have an election?

hossman's avatar

First, the separation of church and state does not appear in the Constitution. Second, when this concept was considered, it was to prevent the state from interfering with religion, not the other way around. Almost all of our Founding Fathers were deeply religious men. Our fundamental rights were viewed as granted by God. If religious convictions were to exclude anyone from holding office, then the Constitution would explicitly say so. Thomas Jefferson said that our form of government presumed the active involvement of persons with religious and moral convictions. If you excluded candidates on the basis of religious convictions, no Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. could run, which would then guarantee a government that is not representative, as the vast majority of Americans profess some religious belief. Who would serve? Atheism and agnosticism are still arguably religious beliefs. The statement God does not exist, or that God is not important are still beliefs.

The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance." "Establishment of religion" prohibits Congress from creating a state religion, such as the Anglican Church in England at that time. "Prohibiting the free exercise thereof" means it would be unconstitutional to deny public office to the practitioner of any religion. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, whatever. Those people that assert a person with religious convictions should be disqualified from public office are practicing unconstitutional bigotry.

@hawaiiguy: But that is my question. Why is it only coming up re Romney? Why not Clinton, Obama and others? Is it because nobody really believes they have religious convictions? Obama, at least, would probably vigorously deny that? So why is he getting a pass? I don't think any candidate's religious convictions should disqualify them from office (although it is as valid a reason for a voting decision as any other characteristic). It is the attitude they shouldn't run that is unconstitutional and bigoted. But why isn't it being applied equally. Is it because he is Mormon, and that is perceived as somehow "scarier?"

Michael's avatar

@Hossman: Since you brought up Jefferson, I'm sure you know that it was he who essentially coined the phrase, "separation of church and state." I quote Mr. Jefferson: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

Further, the First Amendment is not the only place in the Constitution that helps build this "wall." Article VI states, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Government was intended to stay away from religion, but so too was religion intended to stay away from government (After all Jefferson's "wall" does not appear to have any one-way doors in it).

Those of us who fervently support the continued strength of Jefferson's wall believe that, while it is completely fine, even good, for the religious beliefs of our leaders to inform their worldview, policy viewpoints, and politics, it is not fine for these religious convictions to form the basis of law, rules, and regulations or for candidates to use their public expressions of faith as de facto "religious tests." Witness Presidential c andidate Senator Brownback who's stump speech includes the exhortation, "All for Jesus, all for Jesus, all for Jesus!" One could get the impression that he is suggesting that candidates who are not, "All for Jesus," are not as qualified as he is.

hossman's avatar

Thank you, Michael, for unwittingly proving my point. Your quote of Mr. Jefferson is correct. What you left out is this statement was in a letter responding to a letter, in which it was proposed one of the states would adopt a state church. His "wall of separation" was, as I stated earlier, addressing the issue of whether the government could pass legislation favoring a particular religion. It was not addressing the issue of whether religion or its practitioners could be involved in the government. Again, the separation of church and state refers to interference of the government in the church, not vice versa. Nowhere is the statement made prohibiting religion from the "free exercise of government." As Jefferson said, the legislature should not prohibit the free exercise of religion. Prohibiting a proponent of any religion from holding office (as opposed to not voting for them, which you have the right to do) would, as you recognize, violate Article VI, which states "no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office. . ." This is an explicit prohibition against using a candidate's religion to bar them from office. Nowhere does this state, as you say, "religion should stay away from government." If it did, many of our Presidents could not have served. Article VI WOULD NOT EXIST if it didn't implicitly acknowledge those who have religious convictions, those who would fail a religion test, could not hold office. By the same token, I would suggest that a test that required atheism would not be permitted, either. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held office cannot be denied because the applicant practices, OR fails to practice, any particular religion or religion in general.

Religion does, of course, form the basis of law, rules and regulations. Our entire legal system is predicated upon Judeo-Christian religious practice and English common law, which itself was predicated upon Judeo-Christian religious practice. What is not permitted, is for the law to discriminate among religions. What is permitted is for the law to be based upon, or be consistent with, a particular religious belief. As an example, a law requiring atheists or Buddhists to pay more for cars is not permitted. A law requiring car dealerships to be closed on Sunday is permitted. I also ardently support Jefferson's wall, but I believe he would be surprised to see it being used for the inverse of his intent. To use it in the manner you propose would be contradictory to most of his other work.
As to Senator Brownback, I'm not familiar with him. If it is permissible to suggest he is less qualified if he is making this statement, it is just as permissible to suggest he is more qualified.

Michael's avatar

"A law requiring car dealerships to be closed in Sunday is permitted," you say, because it is "consistent with a particular religious belief." So, by your logic, would a law prohibiting the sale of shellfish. That would also be "consistent with a particular religious belief."

In your long response, you did not address the basic point that a wall separating government from religion must necessarily also separate religion from government. As Jefferson rightly recognized, mixing is mixing, regardless of the direction of the flow.

Again, politicians, officeholders, and other leaders are human beings, products of a myriad of influences. Their opinions can and should be informed by their upbringing, culture, and religion (among other things). That is completely different from basing laws on explicitly religious beliefs. You would be up in arms, I would guess, if the government banned the sale of pork products based on the notion that pig meat is forbidden according to both the Jewish and Muslim dietary code. On the other hand, politicians are well within their rights to refrain from purchasing or eating pork, and even encouraging others to do so through "moral leadership."

Incidentally, I don't think anyone has ever suggested that overtly religious candidates should be disqualified from running. I would be eager to see actual evidence of this claim from any remotely mainstream source.

bob's avatar

Michael, I'm sure you'll admit that a law forbidding murder is permitted. That law is consistent with many religious beliefs, and (for some) is predicated on religious beliefs. That doesn't disqualify it. Of course, there are lots of good reasons to outlaw murder.

Are there laws that rest only on religious beliefs? If it's OK for our opinions to be "informed" by religious beliefs, as you put it, how can we tell when a particular law is influenced by religion too much? The abortion debate comes to mind -- that's an issue where there's no direct religious teaching, but where religious influence plays a big role in shaping public opinion. Are there politicians in the US who advocate laws that are strictly religious in nature -- for example, laws which would require residents to go to church every Sunday? I tend to think that most politicians with religious convictions advocate laws which are informed by, not explicitly based on, religious beliefs. But I think that distinction is probably simply too murky to be of much use. I would protest a law banning pork products because it impinges on my (and others') freedoms, not because it isn't part of my religion.

It is interesting that despite the Constitution's ban on religious tests for public office, the US has always had an unwritten religious test for its Presidents. We don't always live up to our own ideals. It seems strange to me to think that Mayor Bloomberg would have a difficult time running for President.

Romney's problems stem from him being Mormon, which is considered weird, and which could (potentially) undermines the strong support the Republican party has received from evangelical Christians in recent years. Obama's religious convictions are not at all unusual, and are not a potential political liability (even, I think, in the Democratic party), so they receive less press.

Michael's avatar

Of course, my distinction between laws "informed by" as opposed to those "based on" religion is murky, and I would not necessarily argue that it should be used as a legal tool to divide lawful from unlawful (although, having read quite a few supreme court decisions, I wouldn't be surprised to see something like that handed down). Nevertheless, the principle remains sound.

Your objection to banning pork products based on such a law impinging on your freedoms is not enough. There are many laws that restrict your freedom but we, as a society, agree to give up some freedoms in return for order and security (a balance that is always being renegotiated). My point is that such constraints on our freedoms should not be based solely on a religious world-view. Prohibiting murder may coincide with religious ideals, but a completely secular case can easily be made as well. Not so with banning pork products.

Incidentally, even President Bush agrees with me (at least a little). Witness the justification for his stem cell policy. He does not argue that God abhors such endeavors (though he may believe that), instead he makes a secular argument about protecting and valuing life as an inherent good in and of itself. He said, in his televised address to the nation in 2001, "I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your President I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world." Of course, he prefaced that with, "I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator." So he is "informed" by his religious beliefs, but the actual policy derives from a secular concern for what it means to our culture. That is why, though I disagree with his stem-cell policy, I don't do so on Church/State grounds.

Poser's avatar

@hoss--how would a law requiring a privately owned business to be closed on Sunday not be discriminating between religions? Not all religions observe Sunday as a day of worship. Since we can't discriminate, we should also require car dealerships to be closed on Friday (for the Muslims) and Saturday (for the Jews). Did I forget any holy days?

How about blue laws? They are surely religiously based. I'll always have a problem with the government infringing on capitalism because of religious views. Seems an obvious violation of Jefferson's wall.

I have to disagree that the wall of separation was intended to only go one way. Remember the power the Catholic church had on the European governments? Are you telling me that those events weren't on the the minds of the founding fathers? The first amendment could also read, "Congress shall make no law concerning an establishment of religion." The first clause prohibits religious influence on government, and the second prohibits government influence on religion. Both are necessary.

bob's avatar

@Michael: I think your church/state position is quite sensible. I only get concerned when people want to broadly ban "religious influence on government" (as Poser puts it).

I should also note that Brownback was explicitly quoting Mother Teresa when he said "All for Jesus." And I don't know whether that is part of his stump speech or whether it was simply part of his Iowa Straw Poll speech (but I suspect the latter). Ross Douthat had a couple of great blog posts about that speech, the reaction to that speech by Andrew Sullivan and others, and the general intersection of religion and politics in the American political tradition. The quote I like best is this:

[In America,] "Church and state are kept separate, religions are freed to compete in the marketplace of ideas, and individuals are free to base their political positions (and their political appeals) on whatever source they wish, be it secular or sacred. If your politics becomes too sectarian, too particularist in its rhetoric, then you'll be punished - but at the ballot box (as Sam Brownback would be, in a national election), not by some high commission policing an imaginary line between religion and politics."

That post can be found here.

I think I like Douthat's position better than trying to find the line between laws and policies that are "influenced by" or "overtly based on" religion. I'm not sure.

hossman's avatar

I tried to, but evidently didn’t say it as well or concisely, as bob’s linked quote above. I would indeed have personal problems with any law banning bacon, but that doesn’t change the legal analysis. Poser, there simply is no basis in the history surrounding the drafting of the First Amendment to suggest any “wall of separation,” much less a 2 way wall. Perhaps rather than using the image of a wall it would be more useful to implement a common legal metaphor, “sword and shield.” The 1st Amendment was intended to be a shield to protect religion from interference of government. This INCLUDES your concern regarding the establishment of a state religion, the example you give being the European Catholic Church. The prohibition against a state religion is not intended to protect the government from religion, but rather intended to protect the other religions from the unfair advantage the state sanctioned religion would have in the free marketplace of ideas. The ban against government influence in religion is wholly focused on the negative effects it would have on the free exercise of religion, the effect it would have on the free exercise of government is a secondary, but probably not wholly unintended consequence. The 1st Amendment, however, was never intended to be a sword to prevent citizens of any religious persuasion, or lack thereof, from equal access and privilege in government, or as Justice Scalia put it, “a bulldozer removing religion from American public life.”

Poser's avatar

I never said it was intended to be such a sword. I was merely pointing out that there are numerous examples of discrimination in the way that particular laws are set up. I don’t see how this isn’t a violation of the first amendment. If I’m an atheist, a Jew, a Muslim, or any other religious or non-religious business owner other than a Christian, forcing me to close my business on a religious day which I don’t even observe is wrong. However you look at it, it’s a violation of my freedom. And it isn’t so different from those policies that drove people from Europe to America looking for religious freedom.

I’m not concerned with the establishment of a state religion in America. It’s inconceivable in this country. I’m not even concerned about what a politician worships. I’m concerned about the loss of personal liberties for something as deeply personal and subjective as any particular faith.

hossman's avatar

You never said anything about a sword. That was my metaphor for your position, which you did assert. Actually, I also disagree with blue laws, but once the legislature passes these laws, which I believe to be poor legislation, I agree with the appellate courts the laws are not unconstitutional, after all the appellate courts are not supposed to be “superlegislatures” and second-guess the legislative branch, even when they’re acting like idiots.

You may be surprised to find it was usually the businesses that requested the blue laws. For example, car dealers requested the legislature close them on Sunday. Sunday was the most popular day for car sales, not surprising since that is the day most people would have the time to shop for cars. The car dealers and salesmen wanted to have Sundays off with their families, but they also didn’t want to lose car sales to the dealers and salesmen who were willing to work on Sunday. Thus, what appears to be religious-based legislation was really labor and protectionist based legislation. The religious arguments made were really pretextual, and were a way for the car sales industry to have their cake and eat it too, by the legislature barring the people willing to work harder from profiting from that willingness. In this case, business welcomed government interference because it meant they could have Sunday off and not lose money.

Why aren’t blue laws an unconstitutional restraint on religion? Because no religion requires as part of its practice the sale or purchase of cars on Sunday. Closing car dealers on Sunday is not discriminatory as it restrains all religions, or lack thereof, equally. Just as prohibiting the sale or consumption of pork would not be unconstitutional. Certainly such a prohibition might be consistent with the wishes of some Jews, Muslims, and other religions, but it does not prohibit the free practice of any religion (unless there is a religion I’m not familiar with that requires eating bacon). It does not favor Judaism or Islam as it does not do anything to promote those religions. Although no one has tried yet to do so, restricting pork for health reasons would almost certainly be found to be constitutional, even though I’d like to think I have a God given right to consume bacon.

Since you have the right to buy a car 6 days a week, the appellate courts have found the legislature’s interest in giving car industry employees Sunday off outweighs your personal liberty to buy a car on Sunday. While I disagree with the legislature’s conclusion, I must agree the law, as bad as it is, is not unconstitutional, as have the courts. Purchasing a car when you wish is not one of the areas of personal decision making, like the free practice of religion, to which our Constitution gives heightened protection. The Constitution is a series of very limited protected rights, it is not a grant to do whatever you wish.

A much tougher question in freedom of religion analysis than your desire to buy a car on Sunday (or whichever blue law you wish) are those cases where the courts have decided to restrict the actual practice of certain religions because they are contrary to public policy or legislative intent. As an example, it has been found constitutional to prohibit voodoo practitioners and other religions from engaging in animal sacrifice. Evidently the Supreme Court finds it OK to kill animals if you’re going to eat them, but not for spiritual needs. It has also been found constitutional to prohibit Rastafarians from smoking pot, or Native Americans from eating peyote.

Perhaps, poser, the problem you’re having here is you apparently have, what I term for lack of a more precise term, a pseudoanarchist view of constitutional rights, in that you apparently label any restrictions upon your actions as “a violation of my freedom.” Nowhere does the Constitution protect you from ANY government interference, although I agree the Founding Fathers intended there to be as little government interference as possible. Perhaps part of the problem is it never would have occurred to our Founding Fathers that the government would try to or need to do things like interfere with smoking, or protect abortion, or limit immigration, so they didn’t discuss it and we don’t know for sure what they would have said. But not all of your interests are constitutionally protected. This is not a criticism of your desire and feeling, it is simply an observation you have a much broader opinion of what your rights are than what they are under this Constitution. Some limits are always necessary for any society to function.

maggiesmom1's avatar

I think the reason there’s no problem with Ms. Clinton & Mr. Obama’s “religious” views is because they really don’t have any. They may express a religious belief or affiliation in order to garner support from people with religious convictions, but I don’t see them being practiced in a manner that’s more than simple convenience.
Any candidate who expresses a strong religious conviction (especially if they seem to live it out) can be assured of being eviscerated in the press for it.

thegodfather's avatar

It hasn’t always been unpopular to put out a candidate’s religious views into their campaign. In fact, religion was a staple in early elections and early political parties were formed around religious views (e.g., the anti-masonic party, the anti-polygamists, etc.). There has been such an emphasis on church vs. state in the late 20th century due to widely publicized ACLU attacks on religion and the rise of evangelicalism in the U.S. Like it or not, politics these days are dividing hither and thither along religious lines. Clinton/Obama are on one side, Romney/Huckabee on the other.

jackpoint188's avatar

Who would you all rather vote for? Someone who uses religion as a basis for political positions or someone who bases his positions on who he would offend least that are in the majority and can get him elected. Without hypocrisy and double standards what would politics be? Instead of right versus left we might just have right versus wrong.

trainerboy's avatar

Everybody is influenced by something or someone. For some it is religion, for others it is money, for others it is power, etc. What matters to me is their views on things regardless of who is influencing them. If I like Obama, I vote for him, regardless of what church he attends. The same for Romney, McCain and Hillary.
To pretend that we are not influenced by things outside of ourselves is a lie.

tigress3681's avatar

I do not recall Bush and the rest as being “unqualified” as legislative/political leaders for their religion, but rather quite the opposite. Many of my family/acquaintances use their religion as a form of qualification. As though, somehow, being a religious person makes them better suited for making laws.

This whole idea of a religio-political leader makes me cry inside because it seems so much like what is going on in the middle east. Our society has long prized separating church and state, allowing them to coexist without overlapping, but when we value our leadership because of their religion, instead of valuing them regardless of their religion, we seem somehow to be bridging the gap towards a religious (and in our specific case, a Christian) government. Every time Christianity has had a major role in government, many people die.

We are not a Christian Nation, despite what a local church has put on their marquee. We are a nation founded on, amongst other things, religious freedom. This means the freedom of choice of religion and the choice of no religion. If we continue to treat religious background as a means to elect government officials we bring ourselves further and further from the freedom we have now.

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