This year’s crop of presidential hopefuls has talked about where they go to church, how they interpret the Bible, what they pray for and other spiritual matters.
But where do they stand on crucial religious freedom issues like “faith-based” initiatives, “intelligent design” and church-based politicking?
Americans United for Separation of Church and State aims to find out. During this primary season, Americans United and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation (TIAF) are working together through the First Freedom First campaign to urge voters to ask candidates 10 important questions dealing with church-state separation and freedom of conscience.
Television and newspaper ads promoting the campaign began running on the eve the New Hampshire primary and continued through last month in South Carolina.
The first wave of ads feature legendary actors Jack Klugman and James Whitmore. They are designed to remind candidates and voters that religion has a place in American life, but not as a political tool.
The ads encourage Americans to ask candidates to state their positions on issues ranging from religion in public schools to end-of-life care. Ten sample questions are included.
“The separation of church and state is what makes America a great nation,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “At their core, the ads are designed to prompt important conversations about where candidates stand on the critical issue of religious liberty as enshrined in the First Amendment.”
Continued Lynn, “All Americans, whether religious or not, have a right to know where candidates stand on issues that have a real, direct impact on their lives, such as sound science, academic integrity and protections against religious discrimination.”
C. Welton Gaddy, president of TIAF, said, “Religion has played an unusually large role in the 2008 election and, unfortunately, it has been used as a gimmick or a divisive tool rather than a unifying force. First Freedom First focuses on important issues that are at the intersection of religion and public policy – issues that our next president must be prepared to deal with.”
The ads are part of the First Freedom First project, a special effort launched by Americans United and TIAF last year. First Freedom First seeks to rally Americans from all walks of life to express support for freedom of conscience and religious liberty.
Klugman, whose career in show business has spanned 56 years, volunteered to participate in the ad campaign.
“I think these ads speak for a lot of people, both believers and non-believers, who understand that this country is founded on a basic respect for everyone’s right to believe whatever they want,” he said. “It’s time we got back to principles that have always made America a great democracy.”
To see the ads, visit: www.firstfreedomfirst.org.
The 10 questions are:
• Leaders on the Religious Right often say that America is a “Christian Nation.” Do you agree with this statement?
• Do you think houses of worship should be allowed to endorse political candidates and retain their tax-exempt status?
• Do you think public schools should sponsor school prayer or, as a parent, should this choice be left to me?
• Would you support a law that mandates teaching creationism in my child’s public school science classes?
• Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?
• Will you respect the rights of those in our diverse communities of faith who deem same-gender marriage to be consistent with their religious creed?
• Should “faith-based” charities that receive public funds be allowed to discriminate against employees or applicants based on religious beliefs?
• Do you think one’s right to disbelieve in God is protected by the same laws that protect someone else’s right to believe?
• Do you think everyone’s religious freedom needs to be protected by what Thomas Jefferson called “a wall of separation” between church and state?
• What should guide our policies on public health and medical research: science or religion?
Americans United and TIAF will sponsor a major national event to promote First Freedom First this spring. See next month’s issue of Church & State for more information about how you can take part.