When faith falls prey to politics, it’s time to take a step back

Faith is something that most people have, whether in an almighty God or in some other deity. In America, it has been a difficult balancing act for centuries to enjoy one’s own faith without letting it get in the way of others.

I recently came across a story from McClatchy Newspapers about how religion and faith are playing prominent roles in the GOP presidential race. In a nutshell, the Republicans have religion, and Obama doesn’t, the candidates have declared, but the Republicans are divided as to which Christian denomination they want to hitch their star to this time around.

A person’s religion or faith is part of them, no matter what they do. They go about their lives adhering to certain beliefs, and it is those beliefs that tend to sway their actions. You won’t find too many Catholics advocating mandatory birth control or Mormons pushing for easing alcohol limits. Depending on where you live and what you believe, politicians’ faith can either be a breath of fresh air or a royal downer.

There are some that argue faith has no place in the political arena or in public spaces, that once you take an oath of office, you should leave your religion at the door. That’s not realistic, as it would be like asking someone to leave their very identity at the door and be a mindless automaton.

While there should be some separation of church and state, it’s important to point out that the First Amendment states we are entitled to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. I don’t advocate using holy texts for public school lessons or requiring those students to say a prayer in the morning, but I have no issue with students of a like-minded faith gathering to pray among themselves. If it offends someone, so be it; it’s not like they’re being forced to participate.

I found myself taking offense when President Obama tried to require religious organizations to pay for contraceptives in employees’ health care plans even when their beliefs. I have a problem with politicians trying to force people of faith to betray their values. That’s why I have no issue with churches and clergy that won’t perform gay marriage ceremonies. They shouldn’t be required to violate their beliefs, even though we should still have the option to get married. There are plenty of folks out there who will be only too happy to wed two men (or two women) in the bonds of matrimony.

The Founding Fathers tried to keep one belief from reigning supreme in America just like the Catholic Church was absolute in England centuries ago. We should hold to our beliefs, but we shouldn’t require everyone else to conform to them. I saw an amusing line on religion on a friend’s Facebook page recently:

“Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one and it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around… and PLEASE don’t try to shove it down my child’s throat.”

I have no problem with someone setting up a Nativity scene in a city hall or lighting Christmas trees in a public park. I only have a problem with those symbols being the only ones allowed in the public spaces. If someone wants to put a menorah up inside or outside a courthouse, I say let them. Like art, faith can and should be expressed. Some in the halls of Congress might claim we are a “Christian nation,” but the reality is we have a variety of faiths and beliefs here.

Instead of worrying about which candidate is best going to reflect our religious values this election, we should figure out who is going to respect all faiths while ushering in the continuing evolution of humanity. It’s easy enough to vote for the Catholic, the Lutheran, the Mormon or the Agnostic when they’re “our people.” What we should hope for is someone who will look out for the freedoms and rights of “the people.”

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