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Separation of church and state ought to be held sacred

September 24, 2015

Today I will spare you the flowery intro that sets up my column and get straight to the question at hand: what the heck is going on with religious interference in American politics?

In our society of increasing political correctness and strong social justice movements, religious discrimination and the American religious hierarchy have become the sore thumb on the otherwise powerful fist of social change. It isn’t hard to see this form of interference in everyday politics if you listen closely to the speeches given by politicians, debates between political candidates, and the perhaps more destructive inference in the formation of political platforms and policymaking.

But before I go any further, let me make it very clear that this is not a column about “taking Christ out of Christmas” or removing “one nation, under god” from our Pledge of Allegiance. Those topics are better left for another day and much less important than the issue of religious ideals in the everyday decision-making and rhetoric of American politicians.

As you are reading this, the names Donald Trump and Ben Carson probably come to mind but before I even begin to mention the more modern incidents, it is wise to step back in time to show that this is not a new problem as well as briefly summarize the constitutional background on this issue. I am sure that every reader by this time in their lives has heard the phrase “separation of church and state” but few actually know where it comes from, what it means, and how it affects them.

The phrase itself is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson as his way to summarize the establishment clause found in the first amendment. In the establishment clause, the very important line “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” That very statement clearly draws the line between government lawmaking and religion; yet, politicians of past and present have ignored that incredibly important line. Our founding fathers predicted this issue and attempted to prevent it but unfortunately, not even our own constitution can stop religious inference.

Although there have been several examples of religious criticism of American politicians, perhaps the most famous is the criticism of the late president, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was, and still is, the only president to serve openly as a Roman Catholic, which drew heavy condemnation from opposing politicians and voters alike. Critics claimed that because of his religious affiliation, and only because of that, Kennedy would base all of his political actions on his religious beliefs.

This absurd notion is laughable when considering that almost all presidents before and after Kennedy were affiliated with some form of religion, primarily Christianity. Who is to say that none of them based their actions off of their respective religions? The criticism of became so heavy that Kennedy was forced to make the now famous statement, “I do not speak for my church on public matters-and church does not speak for me.” But the discrimination of religious affiliations in American politics is only one of the main issues in religious interference.

More recently, we have found ourselves with a more modern version of this very same issue. Although not directly pointed at a candidate, GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson became the poster child for discrimination of Muslims in American politics. In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Carson said “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I would absolutely not agree with that.”

He soon followed that statement by saying that Islam is incompatible with the US constitution. This event highlights the fact that we have in fact not learned from the mistakes made during election of President Kennedy and also leaves me, along with many other Americans, asking why someone’s religious beliefs has anything to do with how well they will run a country.

I am sure that it is not news that religious interference and discrimination spans far beyond the criticism of a political candidate and more so affects the life of the everyday of American citizen. To list one single event in recent history that portrays this problem proves to be much too difficult of a task because of the sheer amount of them.

American politicians, on both sides the spectrum have consistently voted for policies, whether it be same-sex marriage, abortion, or really any other social decision, based on their religious beliefs and not the beliefs of the people they represent. I am constantly asking the question “how can these people be the leaders of the free world if they can’t make decisions without being chained by their own ignorance and religious affiliations?”

I reached a breaking point recently when I saw the rally held for Kim Davis, the country clerk who refused to issue marriage certificates to same sex couples because of her religious beliefs. While “Eye Of The Tiger” blared on the speakers, Kim’s hand was held up by Mike Huckabee, former presidential hopeful and former governor of Arkansas. This support from a leader of this “free world” for someone who was the exact opposite of a pillar of freedom and justice, clearly displayed the problems of religious interference in government. The Kim Davis story is just one story of many that shows how the power of one religion is affecting the beliefs and rights of all Americans.

It is not easy to sum something like this up because there is no clear future when it comes to this issue. Americans will always struggle with their faith and the changing social climate around them. But it is up to our elected officials to put those beliefs aside and do what is best for the whole country, not just their beliefs. As a country that prides itself on freedom, prosperity, and perpetual social reform, the question of religion should never come up when discussing the strengths of a political candidate. I don’t think I can say it better than President Kennedy who said, “Are we going to admit to the world that a Jew can be elected Mayor of Dublin, a Protestant can be chosen Foreign Minister of France, a Moslem can be elected to the Israeli parliament—but a Catholic cannot be President of the United States? Are we going to admit to the world--worse still, are we going to admit to ourselves—that one-third of the American people is forever barred from the White House?”

Matthew Clark is a junior journalism student. Besides being the music director at WRFW and the circulation manager at the Student Voice, Clark has become an accomplished musician, performing with the likes of Chicago and Daughtry. He has also contributed to a few movie soundtracks.