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August 31, 2011

When Faith Drives Policies, A Candidate’s Beliefs are of Dire Interest to Every American

Listed in: Separation of Church and State, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally Published in Politico’s Arena

By David A. Harris, President and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council

Taken alone, a candidate’s faith shouldn’t matter much to voters—and polling shows that it doesn’t. (Indeed Joe Lieberman breaking a key glass ceiling in 2000 showed that an American Jew could become Vice President, for example.) But where a candidate’s faith overwhelmingly guides his or her policy decisions—or where it informs how much the candidate should even govern when in office—it should be a key decision factor for every American voter.

This issue is hardly an academic one with this group of Republican candidates. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s religious views help guide his preference that “intelligent design” be taught in public schools “as a matter of faith,” as he’s said—clashing with those of other beliefs, or of no belief. And it’s hard to be a leader of all Americans while engaging in religiously exclusivist rhetoric, as took place at “The Response,” where Perry stood with religious groups that have been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-gay hate groups. He’s also repeatedly referred to his faith as a reason to step back from governing, noting, “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, ‘God, You’re going to have to fix this.’” All of these factors are worthy of consideration by voters.

Michele Bachmann’s faith similarly drives her policies. While at Oral Roberts University, she was the research assistant on a book that “argued that the United States was founded as a Christian theocracy and that it should become one again.” Do voters have a right to inquire about the policy ramifications of such central beliefs? Similarly she, “like many evangelicals, believes in the scriptural imperative to restore the entire biblical land of Israel to Jewish control”—clashing with Israel’s democratically-elected government. How would that affect U.S. foreign policy? Fair question? 

Similar reasonable questions about the intersection of faith and policy go on and on for Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Gingrich and others. In America, candidates can be of any faith—and Americans shouldn’t, and increasingly don’t, care. But where that faith drives policies, it’s of dire interest to every American.