Gary Bauer, who once sought the Republican presidential nomination, is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families. (Last Sunday, Bauer endorsed Rick Santorum for the GOP presidential nomination.)
A thought experiment: Imagine a presidential candidate. He has spent years in politics,rising to become a trusted leader in his party. He also has spent time in the business world, has an impeccable personal life, a deep understanding of the issues, and is eloquent in speech and moderate in temperament. Sounds like a dream candidate,right?
But imagine that, along with those qualities, the candidate is also a Wiccan, a modern pagan. It’s not an implausible idea. Some estimates put the number o fAmerican Wiccans at more than 100,000. It’s safe to saymost voters would at least have a few questions for our hypothetical candidate. After all, Wicca involves magic,spell-casting and sorcery — not exactly mainstream religious practices.
But would this candidate’s beliefs make you question his fitness for office? Would you oppose him based solely on his faith?
There has been much talk lately about whether, and to what degree, a candidate’s religious faith should matter on the campaign trail and in the voting booth. I have come to the conclusion that while a candidate’s faith matters, what’s most important is how he or she applies that faith. Some commentators, citing the constitutional clause forbidding a religious test for office and the so-called separation of church and state, assert that all religious considerations should be off limits. Many in the newsmedia report the “unsettling news” that polls show some voters are less likely to vote for candidates of certain religions.
Nobody should be legally prohibited from running for office because of his religion. That is what the Founders addressed when they wrote what could be the Constitution’s most emphatic statement: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Even so, voters should consider a candidate’s religious beliefs (or lack of them) because, whether secularists want to acknowledge it or not, those beliefs often help define the candidate’s political values and public policy positions. The question Americans should ask is not whether a candidate is affiliated with a particular faith but rather whether that candidate’s faith makes it more likely he or she will support policies that align with their values. Just knowing that a candidate is, say, Catholic says little or nothing about his or her political positions. The Catholicism of Nancy Pelosi leads to very different policy positions from the Catholicism of Rick Santorum.
Though I wouldn’t vote for a pagan, I’d vote for a Catholic or a Jew whose policies reflect the traditional understanding of marriage and defend the sanctity of human life much more readily than I would vote for the man next to me in the pew who doesn’t support those things…
Americans have not only a right but a responsibility to consider the values of those who seek to lead them — whether they arise from life experience, political ideology or religious belief.