Nowadays, more so than ever before, religion plays a significant role in American presidential elections. As citizens, our job is to examine that role and decide how it will affect our vote. The Bush/Gore campaign has been very much influenced by religion. Joseph Lieberman, Gore’s running mate and the first Orthodox Jew to run for vice president on a major party ticket, has been extremely vocal about his faith. Both George W. Bush and Al Gore, a Methodist and Baptist, respectively, have also referred to their religious beliefs during this presidential campaign ("Anti-Defamation League Criticizes"), raising several questions about the part religious faith plays in presidential elections.
First, what role does religion play in the campaigning process? A new poll reveals that while seven in 10 Americans prefer a president with a sound religious beliefs, they say they don’t want to hear candidates vocalize their faith (Lester). This majority belief doesn’t seem to effect the opinions expressed by the current presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls, especially by Lieberman. At a speech at the Fellowship Chapel in Detroit, Lieberman expressed his desire to find "a place for faith in America’s public life.
The current Connecticut senator went on to say "As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God’s purposes" ("Anti-Defamation League Criticizes").
The Anti-Defamation League, who already criticized both Gore and Bush in the
spring, issued a warning to Lieberman after his comments in the Detroit church. Gore, who called himself a born-again Christian; and Bush, who referred to Jesus as his favorite philosopher, have both shied away from such blatant religious discussion since their spring repercussion. The ADL national director, Abe Foxman, disclosed, "We drew a
line during the primaries for Bush and Gore. And now we think Senator Lieberman crossed it" (Pellegrini).
The ADL is concerned partly because of the possibility that Lieberman’s comments will rouse anti-Semitism in the American public. The Pew Research Poll found that of those bothered by the merging of religion and politics, 49 percent supported Lieberman and 30 percent did not. The statistics were virtually the same among those who reported they were not concerned with politicians discussing religion. These results show that, so far, there doesn’t appear to be any hostility against Lieberman. Examining the bigger picture, the poll found that about three quarters of the American public have a positive view of Jews (Lester). This means that while the public isn’t annoyed because he’s Jewish and referring to his faith; but perhaps his references to his faith may be negatively pinned to his being Jewish-changing our perception of Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League is also concerned with the (not-so- popular) principle of separation of church and state. "We do not think that religion belongs in the political campaign and political arena," Foxman declared to The New York Times. "There’s nothing wrong with somebody professing their faith and going to church or synagogue, but this is almost hawking it" (Pellegrini).
In response to Foxman’s warning, Lieberman’s spokesperson Kiki McLean reports that he "respectfully disagrees." She goes on to say, "Joe Lieberman is someone who has always respected the role faith plays in the lives of millions of Americans. He is someone who always expresses his support of tolerance and separation of church and state." The senator’s wife told the ADL’s parent organization, B’Nai B’rith International,
that the Democratic ticket is, like they are, pledged to "the betterment of the world" ("Anti-Defamation League Criticizes").
So we, as Americans, don’t want politicians to force their religion on us. How, then, do we use our own faith to choose how to vote? In an article by Paul Simon, he argues against the belief that "It’s only natural that people of one religious persuasion should vote for people of their own persuasion." According to Simon, groups that do not feel completely accepted in society tend to vote for someone they can identify with. However, with more and more acceptance of various ethnic and religious groups, this type of voting happens less and less.
One such example of this is the John F. Kennedy election. While many Catholics did vote for Kennedy, their votes were probably cancelled out by those who voted against him for being Catholic. The results are expected in the upcoming election with Joseph Lieberman (Simon 33). One would hope that in our more accepting society this type of voting would not occur, but it most likely won’t have a great impact on the results.
While many Orthodox Jews will be favoring Democrats Gore and Lieberman and Protestants favoring Republican Bush and Cheney in the upcoming election, Catholics, as
a whole, seem to be undecided. Catholics have tended to vote to the left, but this election seems to puzzle the 15 million Roman Catholic voters. The pro-life movement causes the Catholic voter to sway to the left, while the call to care for the needy and underprivileged pulls to the right (Calvo).
John Green, a professor at the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio, even goes as far to say, "The election may hinge on this,
because while there are a lot of groups that can go either way, this is one of the biggest. They’re a very conflicted people" (Calvo).
A Catholic priest, Rev. Ralph Gross, illustrated the struggle Catholics have in choosing between Bush and Gore. He described Bush as a governor who campaigns against abortion while simultaneously overseeing more executions than any governor in history. Gross describes Gore, on the other hand, as a congressman who strongly opposed abortion before doing a complete about-face. While not all examples are so extreme, Catholics are struggling with this decision. And the stakes are high: no Democratic president has ever been elected without holding at least half of the Catholic votes (Calvo).
Why is it especially difficult this election? Perhaps because of the aforementioned religious jargon along the campaign trail (Calvo). This is confusing to voters and calls us to use our own faith to make the decision. The bottom line is this: one should list his or her values and beliefs, whether religiously-affiliated or not, and then match the candidate that holds the majority of these beliefs. One should vote for a
candidate whom he/she believes will do the best at his job. As a Catholic, I have many different concerns in the upcoming election. I have decided not to focus on one particular issue but to look for who supports most of the convictions that I have, regardless of what religion they are. After all, in the example Paul Simon uses, if you need an operation, you probably don’t care if they share you’re religious beliefs. You want the best surgeon you can get. "The same should apply to politics" (Simon 33).
"Anti-Defamation League Criticizes Lieberman’s Religious Statements". CNN. 29 August 2000. 5 October 2000. http://www.cnn.com/2000/ALLPOLITICS/ stories/08/29/lieberman.religion/index.html>. Outlines Lieberman’s recent scandalous remarks at a church and the criticism he received from the Anti- Defamation League.
Bailey, Michael A., et al. Campaigns and Elections: Contemporary Case Studies. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc, 2000. Offers statistics and information on voting and elections, but does not focus on religion.
Calvo, Dana. "Catholic Voters are having a Hard Time Getting Off the Fence." Los Angeles Times. 12 September 2000. Explains the predicament Catholic voters face this election and interviews Catholics about the election.
Dorr, Robert. "Omaha Archbishop Challenges Democrats on Abortion Issue." Omaha World Herald. 19 August 2000. Discusses the Church’s position on abortion and the belief of a particular Archbishop that Democrats should be Pro-Life.
Farah, Samar. Christian Science Monitor 92 (2000) : 14. A British article discussing the reasons women feel they need to undergo cosmetic surgery.
Fraser, Laura. Mother Jones 24 (1999) : 31-3. Discusses why more and more men are undergoing plastic surgery and supports information with statistics.
Lester, Will. "Americans Uneasy with Politicians Talking about Religion. Associated Press. 20 September 2000. 5 October 2000. . Offers findings from a poll that show Americans don’t want politicians to talk about their faith.
Lopatto, Paul. Religion and the Presidential Election: American Political Parties and
Elections. New York: Praeger, 1985. Offers extensive statistics about religion and political choices, focusing on who people of different religions specifically voted for.
Pellegrini, Frank. "Politics and Religion still and Uneasy Mix. Time. 29 August 2000.
Explains how politics and religion don’t mix well in the 2000 election, and expands on Lieberman’s warning from the Anti-Defamation League.
Simon, Paul. "Vote Not for the Best Faith, but Faith in the Best." Chicago Sun-Times
15 August 2000. 12 September 2000. A brief persuasive essay encouraging people to vote for the best man for the job, regardless of his faith.
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