Presidential Hopefuls Should Keep Their Prayers to Themselves

thomas jefferson mosaicI grew up in Charlottesville, Virgina, and graduated from the University of Virginia, so Jeffersonian ideals pulse through my veins. Of all his accomplishments, Thomas Jefferson wanted to be remembered for three things and he stipulated that the following be inscribed on his tombstone:

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.

The separation of church and state is a guiding principle of America, one that our founding fathers had the foresight and guts to demand. Freedom in America comes with no strings attached. We are free to unleash our souls to the values that guide us. Our religion is personal, private, and should have no bearing on our civic duty. Patriotism and religious ideology are mutually exclusive.


As Senator John Kerry stated in his 2004 Democratic convention acceptance speech:

That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology and it doesn't belong to any political party. It belongs to all the American people.

Politicians and their smear campaigns expend so much energy focusing on narrow issues in an attempt to bury real issues under emotional rhetoric. There are claims of Christian values and lack of patriotism just because a candidate doesn’t wear a flag pin. (Have you ever seen those pins? They would totally ruin your clothes!) Somehow being Christian has morphed into being a trustworthy, electable candidate. Again, I harken back to John Kerry, a practicing Catholic, who said:

I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.

The fact is that the separation of church and state is breaking down in this country. The very foundation of our freedom is at stake. No president or elected official has the right to promote his religion to his electorate. A leader’s faith should not color nor enhance his candidacy. Religion is private and plays no role in a campaign or in office. Jimmy Carter, a Baptist, has balanced his faith and service, maintaining a healthy separation. There are questions and doubts about Mitt Romney’s ability to do the same. He has been battling religious zealots on the campaign trail and has stated,

But I know other people have differing views, and I respect those views and don’t believe those qualify or disqualify people for leadership in our nation ... I think, over time, the great majority of us have decided that this is something that doesn’t determine who should be our president, or our vice president or a governor or our senator. But instead we look at the character ... the character of the man or woman.

This might be the only time Mitt Romney and I agree on anything. What frightens me are candidates like Rick Santorum who believe that America should follow in his faith-based guidance. To that I say, go become a lay leader in your church and stay out of Washington.

By far the best example of an elected official balancing her personal, religious views with her service to her electorate is Washington governor Christine Gregoire. After waffling on the issue of gay marriage for many years based on the discrepancy of her Roman Catholic teachings and her views on citizens’ rights, Governor Gregoire announced on January 4, 2012 that she will introduce legislation to allow for gay marriage. She sums it up best:

And then I came to realize the religions can decide what they want to do, but it is not okay for the state to discriminate.


This post is part of a weekly conversation with our 5 Moms Matter 2012 political bloggers. Read the original question and find links to all their responses here: Does a Candidate's Religion Matter?

Image via sarahstierch/Flickr

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