Religion and Politics 2016 / by marilyn salenger

Religion and politics are playing an increasingly prominent role in the 2016 presidential race in ways unique to the times. Evangelical voters are being aggressively and very publicly wooed by Republican candidates as Democrats have the potential to elect the first Jewish President. If Bernie Sanders defeats Hillary Clinton in either the Iowa or New Hampshire primaries, that alone would make him the first Jewish candidate to win a primary contest in either party. 

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and even Donald Trump have been promoting their religious beliefs as if they are part of their political platforms. Rubio and Cruz appeared to be going head to head on who was the most religious in the last Republican debate. Sanders talks little about his faith.  Hillary will sometimes discuss it. 

Half of all Americans, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, say religious conservatives exert too much control over the Republican Party while slightly fewer say secular liberals have too much control over the Democratic party. The study also found that two-thirds of Republicans want a president who shares their religious beliefs compared to less than half the Democrats. Religion has become part of the partisan political divide with sometimes ominous implications for the future. 

Given the current environment, one is led to ask in what ways and to what degree, if any, will the next President use his or her faith as a basis to push their agendas? Among all else, the next President will appoint one or more Supreme Court Justices and many lower court judges. Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that makes abortion safe and legal, hangs with the balance of the Supreme Court as lower courts are aggressively trying to chip away at the ruling.

For many, faith is a private matter. But today privacy is becoming a thing of the past. A presidential candidate's faith has been always been known, but I don't recall President Dwight Eisenhower's religion. It was not an issue. President John F. Kennedy's Catholic faith became a significant factor in his electability with questions about whether or not he would take direction from the Vatican. Kennedy, however, did not campaign on issues of his faith. He became the country's first Catholic President defeating Richard Nixon who was a Quaker.

Faith is now front and center on the campaign trail. Whether it should be or not, it is clear that the separation between church and state is becoming even more blurred.