Should a Muslim be president? A Mormon? A Jew?
The Founding Fathers thought the question of religion so important that they wrote into the Constitution that there should never be a “religious test” for public office. Despite that admonition, American politics and politicians have periodically tested whether a candidate should be disqualified because of their religion, from Catholics Al Smith and John Kennedy through Mormon Mitt Romney.
Now Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is raising the issue anew, saying flatly that a Muslim should not be president.
That likely strikes a chord with some voters, such as the one who told Donald Trump at a town hall meeting that Muslims are a problem in the United States.
Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett told The Associated Press, “People in Iowa particularly, are like, ‘Yeah! We’re not going to vote for a Muslim, either.’ I don’t mind the hubbub. It’s not hurting us, that’s for sure.”
Yet religion matters less and less in American politics today.
Candidates thrive when they preach tolerance. Voters want politicians with strong religious beliefs, but they don’t necessarily have to share those beliefs. People welcome the visit of Pope Francis to the country’s most venerated government institutions, with little talk that his unprecedented address to a joint meeting of Congress has improper religious overtones.
Indeed, Carson is going against the American mainstream.
“Denominational affiliation doesn’t matter as much as it used to,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the nonpartisan, nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute.
Leading the change is the millennial generation, roughly those born after 1980. They tend to be more culturally and ethnically diverse, and they grew up at a time when institutional discrimination against different religions had faded.
Presidential elections in the 21st century have reflected this new tolerance. In 1960, Kennedy’s religion was enough of a controversy that he assured Protestant ministers two months before Election Day that he would govern independent of the Vatican.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act,” he said.
Today, except for Republican primaries and caucuses in more conservative states, a candidate’s faith is unlikely to be an issue as the 2016 presidential campaign unfolds. Nowadays, “you really don’t know what religion the candidates practice,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Source: Tribune News Service | David Lightman