|How one in five Americans view the President|
The poll gets to an issue Americans have struggled with for a long time: whether the religion of our president and elected leaders should even matter at all. George W. Bush famously claimed that God told him to invade Iraq (I'm thinking I worship a different God than him), Ronald Reagan was distinctly irreligious, Bill Clinton was actively religious but of course that was muddied by his personal, shall we say, indiscretions. We know all of this, and much more, because we tend to care a great deal about the religions of our presidents and elected leaders.
Another recent poll, this one from Gallup, showed that one-fourth of Americans wouldn't vote for a Mormon, and over half wouldn't vote for an atheist. A Fox poll showed about the same numbers and also showed that Americans would be even a little less likely to vote for a Muslim than a Mormon.
Article 6, Section 3 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.It appears that while there is no official religious test in America for public office, there is a de facto test in the minds of the majority of Americans, and if a candidate doesn't fit neatly into their preconceived white Protestant ideal, that candidate is in for a difficult ride. One recent good example of this was the race for governor in South Carolina. Nikki Haley converted from Sikhism to Christianity, but that didn't stop her primary opponent from calling her a "raghead" and Ms. Haley having to explain her religious beliefs to voters in an effort to allay fears. She eventually won her primary, but that her religion was an issue at all was unfortunate. What if she had still been a Sikh? Doesn't that disqualify her from being a good governor?
Mitt Romney's Mormonism was similarly a big issue for his campaign and, really, a hindrance. Should his religious beliefs alone have disqualified him from consideration for the presidency? It did in the minds of many, many voters.
And now a big majority of Americans are not even willing to let Muslims build a cultural center a couple blocks away from ground zero. It feels like we are taking a step back in religious tolerance in this country. It seems like America is now propelled by fear and pessimism as opposed to courage and optimism. There is no doubt that this is a period of change: terrorism is a new amorphous enemy, the economy is pretty ragged and it's hard to know how to compete when it is cheaper for businesses to function outside the country, and environmental concerns are growing. But instead of bringing our best ideas to the table we are falling back on old prejudices and stale ideas. We're demonizing "others" as a cheap trick to soothe ourselves.
As a member of a religion that is not exactly mainstream, I worry that if we allow ourselves to go down this road, a road where political candidates and their ideas are judged first by the person's religion instead of their inherent merit and where there is a knee-jerk reaction against minority religious beliefs and opinions, that we'll be excluded first and eventually targeted just like Muslims are now.
And the threats come from two directions. On the one hand some extreme liberals would like see religion removed from the public psyche altogether, and on the other some extreme conservatives want to push America as a solely Christian nation to the point that all non-evangelical Protestantism is removed from the public psyche altogether.
Neither extreme is good for Mormons, obviously. As a result, we should be making a strenuous case for healthy religious tolerance in America, and a good first step would be rejecting religious tests for our elected leaders and supporting (not grudgingly) the right of Muslims to build their center where they want.