Carrie Roush is a senior political science major at Dickinson College in Carlisle and is a community organizing intern with the ACLU of PA this semester.
Voting based on religion
Contrary to popular belief, we here at the ACLU do not hate religion. In fact, at its core, the ACLU believes that all religious beliefs should be treated equally and fairly, which is why it fights to protect federal and state neutrality towards religion by mounting political campaigns and supporting legal action that question government.
It might seem rather strange, then, that I have chosen to speak up in defense of one particular set of religious beliefs in this blog. Religion in American politics has always been sort of an odd duck in the realm of economically-developed, democratic nations who espouse no state-sponsored religion; if we tout the “separation of church and state” doctrine, then why is a presidential candidate’s religious beliefs such a big deal?
Case in point: Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts is a practicing Mormon, who “doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t swear. His wife said that, even in private, he never raises his voice.“. Sounds like a pretty upstanding guy. (Except for that whole anti-choice, anti-gay marriage thing.) But according to recent poll data—including one released as early as November 2006 by independent polling firm Rasmussen Reports—have reported numbers as high as 43% of Americans stating that they would “never even consider” voting for a Mormon candidate.
While this may not strike some as prejudicial—even though a lot of Americans don’t even really understand what Mormonism is—think about what this would mean for any other “minority” candidate. What if the same information were to be released regarding a black candidate? Or a woman candidate? (By the way, there’s officially one of each in the running for a 2008 bid.) “Never even consider?” Those are some pretty strong words. I can guarantee you that every major news network would’ve been all over the story had 43% of Americans decided that they would “never even consider” voting for a particular candidate based on race or gender.
The federal government may not be legally barring Mormons from the presidency, but it seems more than just a little suspicious that in the 218 years of the executive, there has only been one non-Protestant president (JFK, for you history buffs). And while it may, ultimately, be a cause of prejudices in the American public itself, it just seems unfair that we recognize that it is not appropriate to discuss race or gender in this way, but it is perfectly acceptable to voice such strong prejudices against one for his religious beliefs. When it comes down to it, a president should be able to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster if he so chooses, as long as he is competent and doesn’t push his religious beliefs on the American public. (I’ll reserve the obvious comments regarding our current president.) And so, a note to Mr. Mitt Romney: I may not agree with you politically, but keep on keepin’ on. It’ll at least make for an interesting primary season.