Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No Religious Tests For Office

Yesterday, while addressing a town meeting in Iowa, Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Guiliani was asked several questions about his religion, particularly whether or not he was a "practicing Catholic". He was also asked to discuss the role his faith played in making decisions on issues such as abortion.

Guiliani declined to answer, citing that one's religion is a personal matter: "My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests," Giuliani said. "That would be a much better way to discuss it. That's a personal discussion and they have a much better sense of how good a Catholic I am or how bad a Catholic I am." He also added, "That's a matter of individual conscience. I don't think there should be a religious test for public office."

There are those who have questioned his Catholic religious faith or lack thereof because he is pro-choice, a stance that the Catholic Church opposes. Some church officials have suggested that candidates who are pro-choice should be denied the sacrament of communion. Similarly, there are those who question Giuliani's commitment to Catholicism because he has been married three times, with one annulment and one divorce. Catholics who are divorced and have remarried are not permitted to receive communion.

When he was asked later why he didn't answer the questions at the town meeting, Guiliani said that even presidential candidates have a zone of privacy.

"I believe that things about my personal life should be discussed personally and privately," he said, adding that his personal life is relevant only to the extent that it would affect his performance in office.

I fully agree. In fact, I salute him for taking a firm stance on this issue, clearly and uncategorically stating that one's faith or lack thereof should not be an issue for any political candidate seeking office. Other candidates, both Republican and Democrat, are seemingly unwilling to confront this issue head-on, perhaps in a fear of losing Catholic, evangelical, and fundamentalist votes.

This may cost Guiliani the election, but it's an issue that's long needed to be addressed. For the last 30 years or so, corresponding with the growing political power of Christian fundamentalists, the private religious beliefs of candidates have been topics of public discussion, taking on a relevance that had never been quite so prominent in past years, with the notable exception of JFK's Catholicism in 1960.

Candidates and presidents have all been put into the awkward position of having to publicly extol their personal commitment to faith, whether or not it existed in reality. In what should be a private matter of conscience, some have been obliged to make hypocrites out of themselves in order to have any chance of being elected.

Let's dump these quasi-religious tests for office and allow a candidate's beliefs about religion to remain a private matter between them and the god of their own understanding or no god at all. I want to know what a candidate plans to do about the war in Iraq, the American health care crisis, unemployment, infrastructure problems, and whole host of other issues relevant to the everyday lives of all Americans. I could not care less about a candidate's private religious beliefs and practices.


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