The dominance of Church in state

By Nikhil Rao

Gage Skidmore/flickr

It’s November 2011 and the Republican race for the ticket to pit wits against Obama has been up and running for a good six months. From the campaigns of Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Mitt Romney, a prominent theme has been religion. Bachmann and Perry have proudly worn their religion on their sleeves while Romney has been criticized for being a Mormon. Robert Jeffress, a pastor with ties to Rick Perry, branded Mormonism a ‘cult.’ Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney’s distant cousin, faced similar concerns, but that’s hardly relevant given that he couldn’t pass muster with the electorate since he garnered less than 2 percent in the polls (although it is odd that Rick Santorum could explain his paltry showing by saying something to the effect of ‘you’re polling the wrong people.’)

There are people on the left decrying Romney as a ‘flip-flopper’ for moving towards a more conservative position when it comes to the big stage. They contend that his slightly liberal tendencies of yore have disappeared now that he is on the big stage and they find issue with his conservative stances. The right, on the other hand, has labeled him as a ‘conservative of convenience’ and their premise is that his current positions belie his previous policies, such as ‘An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care’ known pejoratively as ‘Romneycare.’

Knowing that is all well and good in political discourse but similar arguments from the public seems few and far between. When people go to vote, it’s known that not everyone is informed but one would hope that a portion of the people would make their decisions based on policies rather than religion. A recent Gallup Poll asked people whether they would vote for candidates of certain categories given that they were equally well-qualified. Only 76 percent of respondents said they would vote for a Mormon candidate and 22 percent said they would not; meanwhile, 92 percent said that they would vote for a Catholic contender. Another disturbing finding of the Gallup Poll is the meager number of people who would vote for an atheist – 49 percent.

From what I have noticed, it is a very American notion to connect morality to atheism. Our very own former Speaker of the House, the inimitable Newt Gingrich, said that he couldn’t trust anyone with power if they didn’t pray because if they didn’t have faith, they wouldn’t have judgment, an undeniable non sequitur in my opinion. If one were to take a close look at incumbents in this country and their religion, almost every prominent politician claims to practice a religion. Jesse Ventura and Pete Stark are the only seemingly prominent atheists that I could find and even I hadn’t heard of them prior to a touch of digging. The discrepancy that I find is that while the United States has a professed separation between Church and State, it seems quite deep-rooted in Christianity, so much so that Mormons and atheists receive opprobrium. It’s exceedingly difficult for these groups to reach a high stead in public office. In contrast to this, the United Kingdom has no separation between Church and State, but their political culture is antithetical to that of the United States. David Miliband is an atheist and was the previous Foreign Secretary of Britain while his brother, Ed Miliband does not identify as religious and is the current Leader of the Labour Party.

Why is it that politicians in the United Kingdom can have high posts in office without the furor that may be expected here? The answer to that is that atheism is anathema to a significant number of people who feel that atheism represents a stark lack of ethics and morals, which I touched upon before. My point is not that such a belief is untrue; it’s that religion should not have such a dominant role in elections. Each candidate comes forth with policy initiatives and arguments; these are the things that should be scrutinized, not the candidate’s ‘connection with God’ or lack thereof.

Nikhil Rao is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]