Alternative Universe: Iowa Presidential Forum Exposes Religious Right Disconnect From Reality
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Nov 21, 2011 at 10:26:48 AM EST
I spent two hours Saturday evening in front of my computer watching the Religious Right's "Thanksgiving Family Forum." The event, which took place at First Federated Church, a large fundamentalist congregation in Des Moines, featured six of the leading Republican presidential candidates - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, former U.S senator Rick Santorum, Gov. Rick Perry, businessman Herman Cain and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. (Mitt Romney begged off.)

The event was jointly sponsored by an Iowa group called The Family Leader, the National Organization for Marriage and CitizenLink, the overtly political arm of Focus on the Family. The discussion targeted issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and the role of religion in politics. Moderator Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, gave each candidate a chance to explain his or her Christian faith.

I sat through the whole thing, and my takeaway is this: I continue to be amazed at how Religious Right activists and their political allies simply make stuff up. Facts to them are pliable things that need not be acknowledged if inconvenient or unpleasant. They live in their own reality.

I can't dissect the entire event. I don't have that much time or patience. But I did take a few notes and want today to explain a few basic things to the Religious Right:

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison don't agree with you. You hate the separation of church and state; Jefferson and Madison loved it. Jefferson and Madison worked together to end the government-established church in Virginia and guarantee religious liberty for all. Jefferson coined the metaphor of a "wall of separation between church and state." Madison spoke of the "total separation of the church from the state." Neither favored an officially Christian government. They are not on your side; stop invoking them.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are two different documents designed to do different things.  There's no doubt that the Declaration of Independence is an important historical document. It was a bold statement of our nation's desire to be free from British control. But it does not list our rights. The rights of Americans are outlined in the Constitution, not the Declaration. I realize that it bothers you that the Constitution is secular and that you place great stock in the fact that the Declaration contains a deistic reference to the "Creator," but that does not change this simple fact: The foundational governing document of the nation is the Constitution - and it does not state that we are an official Christian nation.

We have three co-equal branches of government. It's discouraging to hear you cheer when candidates vow to stop the courts from handing down decisions that you don't like. Our system grants the president no such powers - and for good reason. We're not a dictatorship, after all. An independent judiciary is essential to the maintenance of a free society. When you applaud a man who promises to fire, harass and intimidate judges and turn the courts into a rubber-stamp body, you are advocating for autocracy. Aside from the separation of church and state, there is another important type of separation in our Constitution: the separation of powers. You might want to read up on it.

When you advocate denying public office to people on the basis of what they believe (or don't believe) about God, you are being bigots. Article VI of the Constitution states that there shall be no religious test for federal office. People are free to reject political hopefuls on the basis of their beliefs, of course, but candidates should not promote this type of bigotry. We would have no difficulty labeling a person who says that a Jew is unfit for the presidency an anti-Semite. Likewise, a person who says that an atheist is unfit for that office should be called what he or she is: a bigot. It's not something to be proud of.

You cannot simultaneously argue that decisions are best left to states and localities and demand federal control when states and localities do something you don't like. Several candidates attacked Washington, D.C., policy-makers and asserted that states and local governments should have more control, much to the delight of the audience. They talked about how people have the freedom to make decisions on the local level. But apparently that freedom does not extend to making decisions that the Religious Right does not like. Moments later, many of these same candidates vowed to stop states from legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions and demanded to criminalize abortion in all 50 states by federal writ. When you promote this type of intellectual disconnect, you expose yourself as the giant hypocrites that you are.

The day before the event, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said in a statement, "It's a shame that so many candidates see fit to attend this fundamentalist Christian inquisition masquerading as a debate. Our nation faces many serious problems, but a lack of religion in our political system isn't one of them. In fact, this election has already become deeply entangled with religion, with four candidates now claiming that God told them to run. Enough is enough."

The event is online here if you really want to see it. Take my advice and keep a bottle of Maalox handy.


I don't think it's bigotry to make some of my voting decisions on the basis of what a candidate believes when it comes to religion. Years ago, in my home town, when Operation Rescue repeatedly blockaded the abortion clinics, the county sheriff acted on his faith-based belief that abortion is wrong and refused to lift a finger to protect the clinics. Was I supposed to disregard that when deciding which candidate for sheriff got my support? Some candidates' gods reportedly tell them that a fertilized egg should have the same human rights as a living, breathing woman. Is it bigotry to pay attention when they assert such things?

by nogodsnomasters on Mon Nov 21, 2011 at 02:13:57 PM EST
Certainly each individual has the right to judge candidates by their expressed opinions and proposed policies. If the candidate says, "I advocate thus-and-such," and you don't agree with that position, it doesn't matter whether the candidate's reason for advocating that position is religious in nature or based on some non-religious ideology, there is no cause to call you bigoted for voting against that candidate.

Things get more complicated when a candidate is known to belong to XYZ religion, and the official stance of XYZ religion is a policy which you oppose. If the candidate is silent on her/his agreement or disagreement with official religious policy, or fails to be clear with voters as to whether she/he will allow religious policy to determine the candidate's positions, it can become a bit of a guessing game. My personal opinion is that if a candidate is unwilling to state clearly and unequivocally that she/he will make political decisions independently of religious policy, voters have just cause for being suspicious of a religious agenda.

Where it crosses over into bigotry, I believe, is taking the position, "I won't vote for Jane Doe because she is XYZan," or "I won't vote for any XYZan." And it is unconstitutional to say, "You can't run because you are XYZan."

by MLouise on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 09:10:52 AM EST
I would never vote for a long-time and currently active Scientologist. Reasons: candidate's lack of common sense and his high potential for being a blackmail victim.

by NancyP on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 02:07:10 PM EST
I have no intention to be an apologist for Scientology or any other minority religion, but I will note that "high potential for being a blackmail victim" was a reason long used to justify denying LGBTQ people employment in teaching, government, etc. Assuming that 100% of the members of a group fit the stereotype of that group is always risky.

by MLouise on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 02:33:23 PM EST
concerning the blackmail. The Church of Scientology has an unsavory habit of SLAPP suing any critics. They also seem to focus on wealthy media celebrities who may have something to lose should publicity-adverse information leak to the public. In my opinion, sensible people should not give their sensitive personal information to lawsuit-prone entities that do not have an enforceable professional code of ethics. Doctors can be sued successfully and can have action taken against their licenses for committing an egregious breach of patient confidentiality. Religious leaders are not regulated in this manner.

by NancyP on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 09:45:32 PM EST
on your second point, Nancy. I could conceivably see myself voting for a former Scientologist, as one could say that the person's judgment had improved and caused them to apostasize, but never a practicing Scientologist.
Similarly, I remember how the Mormon Church threw its considerable political weight against the woman's movement, and the Equal Rights Amendment in particular, and I have seen no reason to think that the official Mormon stance on women's rights has improved. (This is of course leaving aside the despicable recent Mormon meddling in the gay/lesbian marriage wars in California.) Accordingly, unless a Mormon candidate for office could show me his* charter membership card in the Sonia Johnson Fan Club, I'll vote for somebody else.

*Female Mormon candidates for public office seem pretty thin on the ground, too.

by nogodsnomasters on Wed Nov 23, 2011 at 06:13:35 PM EST

This county sheriff wasn't unacceptable because of his religious beliefs or affiliations--they were probably of a common variety in the county among his demographic. He was a bad sheriff because he let his religious or ethical convictions override the oath or contract or however he agreed to enforce the laws and keep the peace in the county. How far would his conscience keep him from doing his job? The idea that a Scientologist or a Catholic, or a follower of a Dominionist Prophet would not be acceptable is just kind of moot for me. There just aren't usually many good candidates to vote for anyway, and the ones that God tells to run, she tells me to run the other way.

by arachne646 on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 03:05:13 PM EST

I don't know if I could have tolerated watching the entire 2 hour event. Thank you for watching it for us!

by khughes1963 on Mon Nov 21, 2011 at 03:50:29 PM EST

"Take my advice and keep a bottle of Maalox handy."

If I were old enough to buy booze I'd send all of you a bottle of the best stuff I could afford, as it stands I can just send my best regards. Thanks for keeping your cool, and here's hoping the headache goes away.

by Hirador on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 02:00:15 AM EST

These observations are spot-on.
>>Thomas Jefferson and James Madison don't agree with you.<<
From the wikipedia page for Thomas Jefferson, a quote: "No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples.."

He was also a Unitarian, which is especially ironic since presently Unitarians are counted squarely in the 'liberal' or 'left-leaning' category. Pretty sure the religious right is not looking too deeply (or even at wikipedia) into who and what Jefferson really was.

by COinMS on Thu Nov 24, 2011 at 10:49:30 PM EST

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by MariyaDorothy on Thu Jun 23, 2022 at 11:11:45 AM EST

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