What’s Religion Got to Do with it?

24 Feb

Before I took this AP Government class, I’d watched clips of the current Republican debates and speeches periodically, but as we’ve studied more units in class, I began to realize how relevant the information is to this election and events around the world. So far in class, we’ve gotten through two units: foundations of American government, and civil liberties and rights. Just by studying these two units, I’ve been able to understand the news a lot better because I have a greater understanding of the principles and values that the United States is founded upon.

By being more aware of the Republican election, I’ve started to become more critical of the strong emphasis placed on the religion of the candidates. For example:

This past Wednesday, we had an exam on civil liberties and civil rights. In order to prepare for the test, I reread different sections, particularly the section that explained the relationship between church and state because I find it interesting and conflicting to the campaigns of the Republican part candidates. As a newcomer to the Republican primary campaign, the first thing I learned about each candidate was their religion and their opinions on other religions. Rick Santorum is a devout Catholic. Newt Gingrich is a converted Catholic. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. I find it especially troubling that when I think of each of these candidates, the first thought that comes to my head is their religion. I’m not sure when the election became a popularity contest of “my God is better than your God,” but it prompted me to apply the concepts of this unit to the election. This website was very helpful to me for researching this topic: “Preaching Politics or Religion?” (Mint Press News).

Article VI of the Constitution states,

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

In the past unit, our class also studied the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Although the establishment clause is vague in that it bans laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” I learned that the Supreme Court has interpreted this as a separation of church and state or a wall of separation. Over time however, as shown by the current Republican election, I think the wall between church and state continues to get thinner and thinner. In a study from the Public Religion Research Institution, “a majority (56%) of the public says it is very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs are the same as their own.” After the unit on civil liberties and civil rights, I definitely feel stronger against people voting based on religion. While religion may be a factor of a person’s character, I don’t think that a person’s religion has anything to do with their ability to run the country. Here is another resource I found interesting, from the New York Times: “Religion at the Ballot Box.”


Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Elections & Campaigns, Religion


22 responses to “What’s Religion Got to Do with it?

  1. Brian Rubinow

    February 24, 2012 at 10:52 am

    When John F. Kennedy was elected president, many questioned whether Kennedy’s religion, Catholicism, would impact his ability to run the country. In a speech before a group of Protestant ministers, he made it very clear that he would keep his religious views priviate. (Read the transcript here: I only wish we had more candidates like that today.

    Rather, all the Republican candidates (with the possible exception of Ron Paul) have made it very clear that their personal religious views will influence the decisions they make regarding public policy, including abortion rights, gay equality rights, and many others. To this extent that we know candidates will shape their policies based on their religion, I think it’s valid that people vote based on that religion. If the candidate vows to keep his religion private, that’s a different story.

    Also, being an atheist, I’m dismayed at the fact that one is practically required to be religious (and most often, a Christian) in order to be taken seriously as a candidate. Until people truly see religion as a non-factor in how they vote, I don’t see it happening.

    • hannahlat

      February 24, 2012 at 11:38 am

      Hello! Thank you so much for your response! The link you posted of Kennedy’s speech was really interesting and helped me understand that religion can some times be used as a factor in voting if it will influence the way the candidate makes decisions. Thanks for pointing that out to me!

      – Hannah

  2. Jamie Loo

    February 24, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Great blog post Hannah! The Establishment Clause is definitely still hotly debated today and framing it in the context of the elections is really interesting. I think the religious affiliation of a candidate is incredibly important to some people who go to the polls because of how it may affect that candidate’s governance on social issues such as reproductive rights and gay marriage. A candidate’s religious affiliation gives voters an idea of their social values, which is a big part of the messaging in the Republcan party. If this were a Democratic primary, religion would still be part of the discussion but it would be down-played much more. Going back to the Establishment Clause, it’s fascinating how much the First Amendment is open to interpretation and how our interpretations of it change throughout time. The separation between church and state concept came from Thomas Jefferson, years after the Bill of Rights was ratified. If you would like to read more, the Library of Congress has a great article on this: The First Amendment Center also has this section on religious liberty in the U.S.

    • Mike Gwaltney

      February 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Jamie. I’m sure Hannah will thank you for your comment, but as the class instructor I just wanted to post a word of thanks for providing the link to these resources. The connections we make here on the blog and through social media are often most beneficial in the resources we discover together. Much appreciated.

      We hope you return to our blog often, and continue the conversations.



    • hannahlat

      February 24, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Hi Jamie! Thank you so much for your response and the links you posted for further reading on this topic. I had trouble finding non-biased resources on this subject, so those links are extremely helpful to me! Also, thank you for explaining why there is such a big emphasis in the Republican debates.

      – Hannah

  3. Mary Johnson

    February 24, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I’m glad you are beginning to think critically about the role that religion plays in today’s politics even though the establishment clause seems to make it perfectly clear that no religion can “win” the right to rule the United States. I am so weary of religion obscuring the real issues and of every issue being twisted into a question of religious belief. Religion does not a leader make, and we need leaders.

    • hannahlat

      February 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Hi! Thank you so much for your response! I agree that religion is obscuring the real issues that need to be addressed. Also, as you mentioned, religious beliefs seem to find a way into the discussions and debates.

      – Hannah

  4. david eldridge

    February 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    In England no politician runs with a religious argument, quite simply people would wonder what was going on! A persons faith is a private matter, it is not one that should be their political rallying cry. I often am amazed that such a diverse country, with so many wonderful things and people associated with it gets so horribly misled by non-political arguments.
    I love following the American elections, they just last for four years at a time.
    A final thought the way the Congress and Senate appear to cancel out everything between them is also hard to follow.
    Our Houses of Commons and Lords can for a while, but the Commons have the last say and the Prime Minister gets what they want, in the budget for example.

    Mr E

    • hannahlat

      February 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Hi! Thank you so much for your response and explanation of the political system in England! The United States could probably learn a thing or two from England regarding religion and politics. I think it would be impossible for a candidate to get through an election in the United States without addressing religion. Also, thank you for explaining the differences of the Congress and Senate in the United States and the House of Commons and Lords in England.

      – Hannah

  5. Tom Shields

    February 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I agree with your thought that religion should not matter a lot for our leaders. Not sure why it does. Something to do additional research on was how men like Washington, Jefferson & Lincoln could not get elected today because of their lack of religion. Washington joked how he smoked cigars while waiting outside the church for Martha. Jefferson wrote his own Bible with most referenced to God omitted. Keep blogging!

    • hannahlat

      February 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Hello! Thank you so much for your response! I will definitely research the religious backgrounds of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Although these men were not religious, they were so important to the progress that the United States has made. This says a lot about what makes a great leader and how the view of a great leader has changed. Thanks for the advice for further research on this topic!


  6. chris fancher (@cfanch)

    February 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Your post was well written and made me think. My comment, as a blogger, is that I love the fact that a) you are receiving great comments and b) you are taking the time to comment on each person’s comments. So often I will see that I’ve had 48 hits one day, 156 the next day, and, yet, nobody has left a comment! What did they think? Did they love it? Did they hate it? Will they ever come back to my blog again? Thank you again for letting each of us know that our comments are appreciated.

    • Mike Gwaltney

      February 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks for commenting Chris. I try to impress upon my students how blogging is about opening conversation, and therefore comments and replies are super important. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers.

      Hannah – here’s Chris’s blog:

  7. hannahlat

    February 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Hello! Thank you so much for your response! I’m new to blogging, so I didn’t realize how important comments were when I wrote my first blog post. I’ve gotten great feedback and interesting ideas that help me understand the topic better. I’ve especially enjoyed the links that people have posted in their comments because it provides me with more information and answers the questions that I have.

    Thanks again,

  8. Nicole K

    February 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    After reading your post, I began thinking about the ways that someone’s religion can make or break their presidential hopes. I came out, surprisingly, with a stronger viewpoint from the side of breaking their presidential hopes. Using Mitt Romney as an example, he is, like you said, a Mormon. When someone looks at him to be our President, that should be one of the first things that they notice about him because it could potentially make him biased toward some issues. America needs a President who can look at both sides of the issue so that we don’t have to worry about where his loyalties lie: to his job as a President, or to his religious values. This is not to say that someone who is a Mormon cannot be open-minded about many issues, it is just to say that it is something worth looking in to.

    • hannahlat

      March 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      Hi Nicole! Thank you so much for your response! I completely agree with you that a candidate’s religion can be more detrimental to their campaign. As you mentioned, religion can be an important factor to take into account while voting if the candidate’s religion will stand in their way of being non-biased. America definitely needs a president who won’t have conflicting loyalties. Thanks again for your comment!

      – Hannah

  9. Ross Mannell

    February 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Hello Hannah,

    I found this to be a very interesting post. The American Constitution isn’t frequently studied in Australia yet it is surprising how many are aware of it, in part at least. I have heard of bemused Australian police officers having to deal with someone who wants to claim rights under the Fifth Amendment. I think American TV programs may be to blame. ☺

    Article VI was the part of your post really catching my interest. In particular…

    “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

    It seems questions relating to religious beliefs and the influences they might have on decision-making verge on the unconstitutional if I read Article VI correctly. No one would doubt religious belief or the lack there of might have an influence on a person’s character or decisions but the issue seems best not raised in an election. Surely such a debate as in your included video would have discriminated against a person found to be an atheist.

    It’s unfortunate I have seen examples within Australian politics where religious beliefs have become an issue. Unlike the U.S., I don’t think we have anything like Article VI yet I’ve never had issue with anyone’s choice of belief so I have never tried to find out.

    Teacher, NSW, Australia

    • hannahlat

      March 6, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      Hello! Thank you so much for your response and information on Australian politics and government. It’s always nice to have another perspective on religion as a factor in an election from another country.

      Thanks again,


    March 2, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Lauren S.

    After watching the video and reading this post about religion affecting the presidential elections, it makes me more attentive to this topic and my opinion on it. I think that even though it certainly shouldn’t be the only aspect of choosing a candidate, religion is one of many important factors in evaluating a candidate. This doesn’t mean its necessary to criticize their religious beliefs, however like Nicole said, it is important to know their views because that is most likely something they’ll take into consideration when making decisions for our country.

    • hannahlat

      March 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      Hello! Thank you so much for your response. When I was writing this blog post, I didn’t take into account the reasons why religion could be an important factor in choosing a candidate. However, after I read the various responses, I’ve begun to realize that religion should be taken into account if it could potentially affect a president’s decision towards certain issues. As you mentioned, I definitely don’t think religion should be a main factor in an election, but it should have a minor role for some candidates.

      Thanks again,

  11. Grace

    September 28, 2012 at 6:31 am

    Hello Hannah,
    I loved reading this article because I agree with what you are stating and it is nice to hear a familiar point of view. I am not a particularily religious person from ever since I was young. I am taking a course in school about religion and one theory that I thought was interesting and pertains to this topic is that religion is beneficial until it is taken too far. It’s interesting that so much of the election is surrounded by religion and it makes me wonder if people have gone to far yet? What do you think?

  12. eoppe13

    October 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Thank you Hannah for your wonderful blog! I found it and the comments attributed to it most interesting. Brian’s comment about how he is troubled by the fact that most candidates have their religious views publicly displayed caught my attention. Although I fully support the separation of church and state, I am more likely to vote for someone who has values attributed to a specific religion. I’m just curious about what your opinion is when it comes how open candidates are about their religious values. Thanks again for your blog!


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