Candidates Are Running For Commander-in-Chief, Not Pastor-in-Chief
Statement of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy President, The Interfaith Alliance
WASHINGTON, DC–Americans of all faiths and backgrounds watched with great interest last night as Tim Russert began questioning the Democratic Presidential candidates on the issue of faith and values. However, our hopes were dashed when instead of raising the important questions about the appropriate (or inappropriate) role of religion and its influence on candidates, Russert instead asked the candidates to cite their favorite Bible verse.
The question for candidates running for President on both sides of the aisle is not whether or how Hillary Clinton as a Methodist, Mitt Romney as a Mormon, Rudy Giuliani as a Catholic or John McCain as a Baptist can cite chapter and verse to reach religious voters. The question instead should be about their commitment to defend our fundamental Constitutional guarantees of freedom of belief and governmental neutrality toward religion.
Other, important questions for candidates should have focused on the important safeguards of our nation’s protection of the separation of government and religion – and an issue worth discussing in-depth would be: What active steps have you taken and will you continue to take to show respect for the variety of religious beliefs among your constituents? Or, how do you balance the principles of your faith and your pledge to defend the Constitution, particularly when the two come into conflict?
Candidates on both sides of the aisle are using religion in radically new ways within their political operations. Candidates are forced to defend the practices and beliefs of their faith, describe how they pray and how regularly they attend services, and other questions that have no bearing over a candidate’s vision for leading this country. Candidates must remember that they are running for “Commander-in-Chief” and not “Pastor-in-Chief”.
For this reason, The Interfaith Alliance Foundation recently launched a nationwide interfaith public educational campaign, First Freedom First, to address these very issues and work to safeguard religious liberty in America. First Freedom First is a joint project with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (www.firstfreedomfirst.org). First Freedom First complements the ongoing work The Interfaith Alliance does through its One Nation, Many Faiths election year program which analyzes and interprets the role that religion plays in an election year and seeks to establish a partnership between religion and government that preserves the autonomy of houses of worship and ensures that religious institutions are not held accountable to the priorities and interests of political candidates.
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.