Religion has been used to form the opinion of many men. Those of the same religious belief share an ideology, built on the perception of values and morals, that, by nature, influences elected offices. In other words, there is a reason that much of the political literature distributed by candidates lists their church among their activities. For those in the majority the relationship is an opportunity; for others, it is an obstacle. Such is the contradiction faced by elected presidents, George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy. The differences are juxtaposed in history, and it tells the story of where we were and what we have become.
John F. Kennedy addressed the issue "head-on" in a famous speech made during the 1960 campaign in Houston, Texas. Equally outspoken, but not nearly as eloquent, George W. Bush has never been bashful as to the extent that religion influences his presidency.
In that 1960 speech Kennedy said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President- should he be Catholic- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote..." Conversely, Bush said in speaking to religious broadcasters, "I welcome faith to help solve the nation's deepest problems," and is quoted in Understanding the President and his God, "We need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God."
Kennedy continued, "...(I believe in an America) where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference." Bush speaks to the issue in the 2004 State of the Union Address, "...government has often denied social service grants and contracts to these (religious) groups, just because they have a cross or Star of David or a crescent on the wall. By executive order, I have opened billions in grant money to competition that includes faith-based charities."
Furthermore, Kennedy reaffirms, "I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views- in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to religious pressure dictates." Bush again distances himself from Kennedy in the example of the religious effort to ban gay marriage, "Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage. The outcome of this debate is important- and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight."
Kennedy did address the personal conflict between the presidency and religion, "But if ever the time should come- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible- when my office would require me to either violate the national interest, then I would resign my office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same." On the other hand, according to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Bush is acting completely on behalf of God when Bush told the Prime Minister, "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East." This statement is consistent with an earlier one when Bush proclaimed, "This Crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."
In that 1960 campaign, Kennedy feared of being discriminated against because of his religion. He noted that there were so many other issues deserving of debate. His fear can be inferred, that the election may be based as a religious test, when he said, "...if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the nation as a whole that will be a loser..."
Consider today the 8 million non-Christians and the 30 million non-religious that would face an uphill battle toward holding a political office. The absence of elected officials significantly affects their representation in government- that is, a government imploding on its own culture war based predominately in religious ideology. We have a government that has let religion in and now finds itself consulting it with every consideration- from gay marriage to Supreme Court Justice nominations. Moreover, we have religions and religious organizations that threaten politicians and policy makers based on their powerful voter constituency. Rather than embracing religious freedom and diversity, Christians claim that they have been suppressed, and are determined to create a Christian nation- made up of Christian laws.
Personally, I relish in religious freedom and I would like to believe in the same America that John F. Kennedy believed in, "an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials..." Finally, I agree, as Kennedy concludes, "I believe in a President whose views on religion are his private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office." In principle, the Constitution prohibits religious tests for office; it is up to us to prohibit religious crusades.
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