Countering the Destructive Effects of the Campaign Season on Religious Freedom

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According to a recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more and more Americans are coming to acknowledge what Interfaith Alliance has always understood: There is too much religious talk in politics. The Pew poll shows that nearly 40 percent of Americans think there is too much of it today; that’s up from only 12 percent in 2001.

Throughout its existence, Interfaith Alliance has worked hard for faith and freedom. We’ve been working hard this year to help protect the boundaries between religion and government. These boundaries imply an arrangement in which religion and government can see and hear each other without compromising each other’s independence or violating each other’s role in the public square.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read the great columns by our own Rev. Gaddy on some of the craziness on the campaign trail: “Newt Gingrich Stands up for ‘Our Religion,’” “Protect the Boundaries Between Religion and Government” and “The War on Religion does Not Exist.”

We also collaborated with the Anti-Defamation League and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty to draft a set of joint principles on the role of religion in elections. We called on candidates to refrain from implying that they should receive your vote because of their faith and to remember that religion is not a political football to be used by candidates for tactical advantage, but rather a force that brings diverse people together through mutual respect and understanding. The American Islamic Congress, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Islamic Society of North America, Hindu American Foundation, Hindu American Seva Charities, Muslim Advocates, National Council of Churches USA, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, Union for Reform Judaism, The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society, and United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries joined us in support of the principles.

And we’ve been following the state of the race on our weekly radio show: State of Belief. Recently, Greg Lebel – veteran of Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaigns and assistant professor of political management at The George Washington University – joined us to recap the race. Sarah Posner, senior editor of Religion Dispatches, came on to discuss the role of religion in politics, and Kevin Eckstrom, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service, helped us understand Santorum’s rise. Chris Stedman, Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University, shared his concerns about how damaging recent religious rhetoric on the trail can be to both religion and government. And Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, NAACP national board member, drew upon his decades of civil rights activism to explain why it shouldn’t be any surprise that Rev. Franklin Graham and others are making an election issue out of President Obama’s faith.

While it is important that organizations such as Interfaith Alliance continue to serve as watchdogs to protect the integrity of both religion and democracy during the campaign season, it is equally important that we educate candidates, clergy and voters to ensure that religion plays an appropriate role that allows candidates to talk respectfully about their faith without using it as a political weapon. That’s why, as we have done for many years through our election year guides, Interfaith Alliance is again providing voters, candidates and houses of worship guidance on how to appropriately engage with each other during the election season. Each guide has been carefully developed and refined over several election cycles, with the help of activists, experts in election and tax law and, in the case of the candidate and house of worship guides, the IRS.