Thursday, March 1, 2012

Voters Religious Bias Dogs Politicians

Published in Centre Daily Times, Feb 29 2012

According to the 2011 Census, India, the largest democracy in the world, is 80.5 percent Hindu, 13.4 percent Muslim, 2.3 percent Christian, 1.9 percent Sikh and 0.8 percent Buddhist.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh happens to be a Sikh. He certainly comes under scrutiny for his policies, but not for his religion.

In the U.S., our Constitution clearly mandates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

However, a 2003 poll by the Pew Research Center found that U.S. voters care about the religion of presidential candidates: 38 percent would not vote for a Muslim candidate, and 50 percent would not vote for an atheist. Interestingly, “64 percent of Americans felt that a candidate’s religion, or lack thereof, could lead them to vote against a well-qualified candidate from their own party.”

Coming to the current presidential field, a June 2011 Gallup poll found that “though the vast majority of Americans say they would vote for their party’s nominee for president in 2012, if that person happens to be a Mormon, 22 percent say they would not, a figure largely unchanged since 1967.”

In this survey, 18 percent of Republicans, 19 percent of independents and 27 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for a qualified candidate if the person happened to be a Mormon.

For any other job, not hiring a person who is otherwise qualified on the grounds of religion would be considered discrimination. But one fifth of Republicans and one fourth of Democrats surveyed had no qualms about doing this to a candidate for president.

These Republican responders would not vote for Jon Huntsman or Mitt Romney.

Would they have agreed to Huntsman serving as ambassador to China or Romney serving on the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and leading the 2002 Winter Olympics to success?

Do they have qualms about the service of Republican Sens. Mike Crapo, of Idaho, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, of Utah, Dean Heller, of Nevada, who happen to be Mormons?

Are these Democratic responders saying they would not vote for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, or Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, of New Mexico, if they were candidates for president, because they happen to be Mormons?

Do they have evidence of these politicians letting their faith interfere with their duties? If not, letting faith factor in to voting decisions reflects only the prejudice of the voters.

Where would these voters draw the line? In what capacities would they allow Mormons, who make up slightly less than 2 percent of the U.S. public, according to the Pew Forum’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, serve the country?

The same survey shows that Jews account for 1.7 percent of the U.S. population and Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus each account for less than 1 percent of the population. In the future, we may have candidates for president who practice any of these religions, or who may even be atheists.

It is their constitutional right to run for president and to have no “religious test” applied to them.

I hope that by then we will cultivate the ability to choose people solely on their record and their stands on various issues.

The future of our country, our democracy and the integrity of our Constitution depend on this.

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