Religious leaders warn against crossing the fine line between faith and politics
As Americans are in the midst of a heated election year, a group of interfaith leaders is concerned about religious views being incorporated into politics. At a panel discussion at St. Petersburg College in Seminole this month, each member expressed devout religious views, but none supported basing political decisions on theological beliefs.
Abhi Janamanchi is a minister with the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater. His church doesn’t endorse and particular candidate or political party, but does promote participation and civic responsibility. Janamanchi said that taking faith to the ballots isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it can be dangerous if voters insert religious views into issues that shouldn’t be about faith.
“Issues that are, in turn, impeding us. To be able to be the kind of republic that our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence frames us to be. To be a free society. To be affirming of all people of all races, backgrounds, religions, sexual orientation, gender identity and truly support the values that we seek to uphold as a democratic society.”
And with legislation tearing through countless state legislatures to limit women’s rights to reproductive choice, panelists all touched on whether the discussion has a place in the political arena. Janamanchi doesn’t think so.
“Trying to insert discussions around morality – be it around gay marriage, be it around abortion rights – tends to muddy the waters and take away the conversation and directions that can be deeply distracting and dangerous because we have more pressing issues that we need to be contending with.”
“I think government needs to stay out of it as much as possible. Really. It shouldn’t be a government issue.”
Kathleen Beatty with the Sisters of St. Joseph’s is vehemently opposed to abortion. And to birth control.
“When you legislate any legislation, you have to be careful that your legislation does not infringe on the religious rights of people. So, with the whole healthcare initiative – including that people’s money would pay for contraception for people – it then infringes on people – not just Catholics, but many people – who are really concerned about life and the value of life.”
But reproductive rights issues aren’t the only way politicians are incorporating more and more faith-based views into politics. Hassan Shibly, director of the Tampa Council on American-Islamic Relations just celebrated the defeat of [a bill]9http://www.wmnf.org/news_stories/10407) in the Florida legislative session. That proposal would have outlawed the use of foreign laws in courtrooms. Shibly and other supporters saw it as an attack on religious freedoms. And he said initiatives like that are spreading throughout the country.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that in 2012 we still have political candidates that are making a campaign out of attacking minorities, particularly the Muslim community now. You have several candidates – Santorum, Gingrich – who are publicly making blanket statements condemning Islam and Muslims and ostracizing them and really making them afraid and I think that’s unacceptable in America. They’re completely forgetting the first amendment which protects all religions whether you agree with it or disagree with it. Unfortunately, the Muslim community finds itself now not even voting for the best candidate, just voting for the candidate that isn’t out there to attack our faith and our way of life and trying to ban our way of life.”
Shibly said he thinks anti-Muslim rhetoric stems from ignorance. His job, among others, is to reach out to people and show them that Islam is a religion of peace, not blood and bombs.
“There’s a lot of conflicting interests. You might have one candidate – Okay, I agree on his police on gay marriage or on abortion, but I don’t like his policy on foreign policy on wars. And this candidate, I absolutely disagree with his policy on gay marriage and abortion, but I love his policy about not invading and attacking other countries. And I have to ask myself what’s more important. Should I be more concerned with what goes on in people’s bedrooms or should I be more concerned about the thousands of people that are dying by U.S.-made bombs.”
Education is also important to Sisters of St. Joseph’s member Kathleen Beatty. She said so many candidates spew promises – some aimed at compelling votes from Christians - but those promises are often empty.
“When somebody is running for an elected office like the president of the United States and they say, ‘if you vote for me, I’ll do this and I’ll do this’ and people think that it’s a possibility because people don’t know – I don’t think the average American is a good student of our American history – they don’t know that a president does not draft legislation. That’s done by the Senate, by the House of Representatives, by the whole Congress as a whole. How you create a bill, they used to teach it in grade school. So, for somebody running for political office to say ‘if you vote for me, I will do this – I will do something that is not at all an executive power’, it’s a legislative power.”
Other faith-based leaders weighed in as well. Arthur Baseman, a Rabbi, said he has no objection to a political candidate who expresses his faith as long as it isn’t their sole driver. He added, and others agreed, that there are conflicting opinions within every religion, not just between religions. Each religious leader promoted one concept: tolerance.
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