Religion shouldn't define a candidate

COMMENTFebruary 28, 2012 

Most Americans look askance at the imposition of Shari'a law in many middle Eastern countries. Yet they don't act very concerned at attempts being made in America to enact conservative Christian morality as the law of our land. Whether it's Rick Santorum trying to keep birth control from women because it is against his religious beliefs or Newt Gingrich urging a constitutional amendment to keep marriage sacred as defined by his three sacred unions, we are skating dangerously close to a religious reign in America.

It doesn't matter if you call them priests, ministers or ayatollahs, religion ends up trumping civil law. Anyone not following those religious standards risks losing his or her right to think or act differently.

Our constitution was carefully crafted to keep religion and government separate based on the persecutions our forefathers endured for their beliefs. They felt the safest way to keep that from happening in America was to create a big wall between the two. Who'd have thought that 200 years later, it would be our government needing protection from religious zealots who not only want the right to believe as they chose, but want to make sure that your right to believe as you choose is totally proscribed by what their religion allows.

Does your faith allow the concept of family planning as a legal, viable choice with no spiritual drawbacks? Too bad. Rick Santorum's religion does not believe in that and he doesn't particularly care that the Constitution was set up to protect everyone's beliefs. When he becomes president, he will do his best to see that you never have access to birth control unless you are rich enough to pay personally for it. Not to worry, though. Viagra will still be covered by insurance because it is clearly needed to assist men through a difficult medical condition.

The first presidential election I remember was in 1960. John Kennedy versus Richard Nixon. Young, good-looking cool guy versus jowly, sweaty man barely comfortable in his own skin. Being Catholic was a definite disadvantage for Kennedy. So at one point he gave a speech in which he basically promised that his election would not mean the pope ruling America. He promised to keep his civic and religious life separate. He has got to be turning in his grave as this election season progresses, seemingly based on which candidate can out-Christian the other candidate.

Poor Mitt. Being Mormon has never been easy in this country, especially when most conservative Christians do not believe Mormons are Christian. Now that Catholicism has been accepted into Christianity's fold, the Mormons stand out even more as the round peg trying to squeeze into the square hole.

Nixon's religion was not as much of an issue in the 1960 campaign as his five o'clock shadow. I'm pretty sure most people would probably not have been able to tell you what his religion was as they went to the polling booth. He felt no need to either explain or defend his religion and certainly made no promise to rule as a Christian.

Back then, Americans were still pretty wary of people who used their religion to proclaim their goodness and righteousness, as though without it they had no moral compass. Most Americans felt that the Constitution provided the compass for our nation and it didn't need the help of anyone's priest or rabbi or imam to justify the laws that flowed from it.

Now we are in the middle of a battle for what seems to be the soul of the Republican Party and the main issue is apparently who goes to church and prays most. Given the state of our economy, the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay, and the ongoing struggles of the middle class to cling to its place in society, you'd think these candidates would have something better to discuss than which one of them more opposes a woman's right to choose than the other. But they seem so bereft of new ideas, better plans, and viable alternatives, that all they can do is turn to their faith and proclaim that being more Christian than the next candidate is the only credential they need for your vote.

The Republicans are seemingly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I thought only the Democrats did that.


Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," her memoir of 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.

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