Does religion have a place in the 2008 presidential election?

            Whether Americans like it or not, religion continues to play a role in each presidential election. It can shape a candidate’s moral values, policies and leadership techniques, as well as skew a voter’s opinion in the polls.

            According to past surveys by the Pew Forum on religion by the Pew Research Center for the People and Press, most Americans said it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. Voters who viewed presidential candidates as more religious expressed more favorable views toward them.

            Ronnique Lippett, a senior in criminal justice and a Christian, agrees with the 2004 opinion poll.

 “Religion is just as important as the role they will play as president,” she said. “It reflects their character and how they will go about leading our nation.”

            However a more recent surveys suggests that voters are more willing to accept a candidate who is not seen as very religious.

 In an August 2007 Pew Forum survey, participants viewed Mitt Romney as more religious than any other candidate for the White House, while Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were voted the least. Despite these opinions, Clinton and Giuliani are leading contenders on Gallup, CNN and Newsweek polls this November.

             “Religion shouldn’t matter or determine whether they are good or not. Just because you go to church does not mean you’re the best for the job,” said Azizah Muhammad, a medical science major and a Muslim.

Franki Weddington, an english and journalism major, is an atheist and says a candidate’s beliefs will not affect her vote.

“If candidates want to use their religion to introduce their background and beliefs, that’s fine, but it is not necessary,” Weddington said.

The particular religion that is practiced also has a bearing in the presidential election.  Despite the fact that nearly half of Americans who participated in February Pew opinion polls believe Mitt Romney is just as religious as George W. Bush, a quarter of voters say they would be less inclined to vote for a candidate who is Mormon.

            “Romney tries to downplay the fact that he’s a Mormon. He thinks it’s a turnoff,” said Michelle Palladino, a senior mass communications student who does not consider herself a religious person.

“Unfortunately, practicing a religion other than Christianity, or practicing no religion, is a major disadvantage in most American political races,” said Dr. Steven Tauber, a political science professor.

But with more people squashing the importance of religion in recent Pew surveys, how will it affect the 2008 presidential election? Our founding fathers promised the separation of church and state, so how much is too much?

Only 27 percent say that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer by political leaders, but 26 percent says there has been the right amount. Thirty-eight percent would like to hear more about religion from politicians.

James Nauck, an engineering student, does not subscribe to any particular religion and feels it’s expression is too much a factor.

 “It would make me want to vote less for them,” said Nauck.  “In my opinion, you have to separate church and state. “

            “A candidate’s religious beliefs should be a private matter. It only becomes a matter for public discussion because the candidates like to emphasize that they are religious in order to pander the American public,” Tauber said. “I think candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, rely far too heavily on religion to advance their agenda.”

“Some people use religion just so people of the same religion will vote for them. For example, they use going to church on Sunday as photo ops,” said Palladino.

Whether a candidate is truly sincere about their faith or not, it remains on the front lines, especially because many social issues such as abortion and gay rights can hint towards a person’s religious beliefs.

 

–Courtney Allen

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