Any expectation of privacy about religious beliefs disappears for GOP candidates when those beliefs dictate policy decisions that would directly restrict the rights of others. (More)
GOP Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently held a rally in which she made the latest in a long line of truly batty religious statements, claiming:
I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.
Bachmann’s statements, combined with Rick Perry’s close association with dominionism and the New Apostolic Reformation, which seeks to accelerate the day of the rapture, raises the important question of how carefully voters and the media should scrutinize the religious beliefs and associations of people running for elected office.
Last week, the New York Times‘ Bill Keller wrote a column urging that we more carefully scrutinize the religious beliefs and associations of the various Presidential candidates, and set forth a series of questions that he was posing to the campaigns of Bachmann, Perry, and other GOP hopefuls. The response from the right has been to contend that the religious associations and beliefs of these candidates are largely irrelevant and overblown by the media and/or that the association of candidates like Perry and Bachmann to dominionists is no different than President Obama attending Jeremiah Wright’s church.
As a general matter, Winning Progressive has a bit of sympathy for the response of conservatives to in depth evaluations of the religious beliefs of GOP political candidates. Faith, or lack thereof, is an extremely personal issue and people generally should have the right to keep their religious views private and shielded from the prying eyes of the media and society if they wish. In addition, our Constitution includes a clear prohibition on religious tests for public office that we should be careful not to effectively undermine.
But the conservative objections to religious questions and false claims of equivalency between the religious beliefs of conservative candidates and those of progressive candidates misses a critical point. Namely, that any expectation of privacy about religious beliefs that a candidate may generally have disappears when those beliefs dictate policy decisions in ways that directly restrict the rights of other Americans or impact our foreign policy. As for equivalency, far too often it is religious views on the right, not on the left, that lead to policies that restrict such rights.
The key issue here is that the GOP base includes a very large contingent of religious conservatives that any Republican candidate who wants to get the party’s nomination must bow down to. And such courting of the religious conservative base leads GOP Presidential candidates to support policies that would restrict the rights and opportunities of others. For example, in an effort to get religious conservative votes, most Republicans:
- oppose stem cell research, which could help lead to cures for numerous horrible diseases
- oppose marriage equality and other rights for LGBT Americans
- engage in a wide-ranging effort to restrict a woman’s right to choose
- engage in a frightening level of deference to Israel in part motivated by the belief that a war between Israel and Arab nations is necessary for the end times
- work to undermine science by teaching religious theories about creationism in the place of science
On the other side, it is hard to think of even a single area of policy where progressives seek to restrict the rights of others on the basis of religiously motivated beliefs. While religious values help to motivate many progressives to fight for policies to help the poor, reduce economic inequality, protect the environment, etc., support for those policies does not imply a specific religious belief, or any religious belief at all. Other progressives advocate the same policies for entirely secular reasons.
In short, the religious beliefs and associations of conservative political candidates matter even while those of progressive candidates typically are not worrisome because it is conservatives who are seeking to use religion as either the reason or the excuse for restricting the rights of other here at home and abroad. If Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and others want to stop having to answer questions about their religious beliefs and associations, they should stop supporting policies that would effectively impose their religious beliefs on others.
Cross-posted at Winning Progressive