UNITED STATES — As November looms ever closer, Americans continue to grapple with the many issues and the rheteroic surrounding the 2016 Presidential election process. The national conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties are now over, and candidates officially declared. At the same time, the smaller Libertarian and Green parties have also declared candidates. To date, this race has been one of the most contentious, and only promises to continue in that vein.
One of the most critical issues for Pagans, Heathens and polytheists is a candidate’s position on religious freedom and the protections granted by the First Amendment. The Pew Research Center recently published an overview of “Religion and the 2016 Election.” Where do various religious communities fall within candidate support? According to the June polls, GOP candidate Donald Trump finds his biggest support among white Evangelical Protestants. “Roughly eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestant voters (78%) say they would support Trump if the election were held today.” That percentage is up slightly from 2012.
On the other hand, black Protestants strongly favor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “Nine-in-ten black Protestants who are registered to vote say they would vote for Clinton if the election were held today (89%), as would two-thirds of those with no religious affiliation.” The unaffiliated is defined as the ‘nones,’ or those not connected with any religion.
Pew’s report did not record any interest in third-party candidates, nor did it analyze the responses from voters within non-Christian religious populations. Pew states, “There were not enough interviews with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and members of other religious groups to analyze their responses separately.” That includes Pagans, Heathens and polytheists, unless some were labeled “unaffiliated.” Regardless, the data aren’t there.
Another Pew study published in January discusses the value of candidate’s religion within the campaign process. Does a candidate’s religious affiliation matter to voters? According to that study, 51 percent of Americans are less likely to support a candidate who “does not believe in God.” That statement could be read as meaning simply an atheist candidate, which is how Pew analyzes the data, or it could also be read as a candidate practicing a minority religion, who does not believe in the Abrahamic god. This nuance was not addressed.
At the same time, Pew does note that the percentage of people concerned about a candidate’s “faith” has been dropping. That figure is down twelve points from 63 percent in 2007. Similarly, the number of Americans who are “less likely” to support a Muslim candidate is also down from 46 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2016.
And, this trend follows with other major religions as well. The candidate’s own religious affiliation is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the election process, paralleling the growth of the ‘nones,’ an increase in minority religious practices, and other similar trends that suggest a movement toward greater secularization.
While the candidates’ religious beliefs are of decreasing interest, their position or their party’s position on religious freedom is still a vital part of the campaign process. Religious freedom was and is still one of the backbones of the American system.So where do the parties stand? Here is a look at the official 2016 party platforms with statements by the candidate in no particular order.
“Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” (p. 22)
The Democratic platform predominantly addresses religious freedom in general terms. It is included in discussions of general civil liberties, diversity in the military, LGBT rights, and the condemnation of profiling and hate speech. Democrats state, “It is unacceptable to target, defame, or exclude anyone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. ” (p. 18)
The platform talks more specifically about religion in three places. First, when discussing marriage equality, Democrats say, “[We] applaud last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people—like other Americans—have the right to marry the person they love.” They go on to indirectly reference the run of Religious Freedom Restoration acts (RFRAs) in the following statement: “We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 47)
The Democrats also mention religion in a section titled “Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations.” They pledge to “empower tribes to maintain and pass on traditional religious beliefs,” among other things. And, they offer to “acknowledge the past injustices” that have led to the destruction of such beliefs. (p. 22-23)
Under the title “Religious Minorities,” Democrats say, “We are horrified by ISIS’ genocide and sexual enslavement of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East. We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 51)
This idea is supported by a comment in Clinton’s own book, Hard Choices, published in 2014:
Religious freedom is a human right unto itself, and it is wrapped up with other rights, including the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, associate with others, and assemble peacefully without the state looking over their shoulders. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that each of us is born free to practice any religion. (p.74)
Clinton herself is reportedly a Christian and, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, said, “[It] is our duty, to build that bright future, and to teach our children that in America there is no chasm too deep, no barrier too great–and no ceiling too high–for all who work hard, never back down, always keep going, have faith in God, in our country, and in each other.”
More recently, in an Op-Ed for the Deseret News, owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and with a Mormon readership, Clinton wrote, “As Americans, we hold fast to the belief that everyone has the right to worship however he or she sees fit. I’ve been fighting to defend religious freedom for years.” She ends noting the “blessings” of Constitution and promise to uphold the President’s “sacred responsibility” to protect it.
“[Republicans] oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination.” (p. 9)
The Republican Party tackles religious freedom head-on. In a section titled “The First Amendment: Religious Liberty,” the party begins by saying, “The Bill of Rights lists religious liberty, with its rights of conscience, as the first freedom to be protected. Religious freedom in the Bill of Rights protects the right of the people to practice their faith in their everyday lives.” (p. 11)
From there, the Republicans continue on to discuss the “ongoing attempts to compel individuals, businesses, and institutions of faith to transgress their beliefs” and the “misguided effort to undermine religion and drive it from the public square.” More specifically, the urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which removes the 1954 IRS code restricting tax-exempt entities, including religious bodies, from engaging in partisan politics. (p. 18)
The Republican Party platform goes on to endorse the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (HR 2802) that addresses “discriminatory actions against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction.” This includes the repeal of the IRS tax code as well as further protections for faith-based institutions. The Republicans explain, “[the act would] bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” As such, the platform also “condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor.” (p. 11)
Religious rhetoric can be found in other sections of the platform, similar to the party’s position on marriage equality. However, the Republicans do not directly address religious freedom again until their discussion on foreign policy with regard to Israel and Syrian refugees. In both cases, they acknowledge their support of governments and systems that “protect the rights of all minorities and religions.” (p. 47) The platform reads:
The United States must stand with leaders, like President Sisi of Egypt who has bravely protected the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and call on other leaders across the region to ensure that all religious minorities, whether Yazidi, Bahai, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christians, are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution. (p. 59)
Where does Trump stand specifically? He has reportedly spoken out briefly on the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. According to Time, Republican platform committee member Tony Perkins said, “[Repealing the Johnson Amendment] is a priority in the platform, and from the Trump folks, it is a priority of the campaign, and will be a priority of the administration.”
Trump’s running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, is a supporter of the RFRA movement, having signed one of the most publicized of such laws. Trump wrote in his book Crippled America, published in 2015, “What offends me is the way our religious beliefs are being treated in public. There are restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say, as well as what you can put up in a public area. The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success. That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132)
Trump’s foreign policy has been a hot topic after he suggesting banning Muslims from entering the country. However, he has since explained that his statement is about “territory” and not religion. As noted in the New York Times, Pence recently supported this idea when he stated that the campaign suggested an immigration ban on all people coming from certain Daesh-controlled territories.
In July, Trump himself was quoted in The Washington Post, saying “We have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that’s great. And that’s the wonderful part of our Constitution. […] I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution.”
“As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” (p. 1)
The Libertarian Party published its 2016 platform in May after holding its own national convention. The platform is far shorter than either of the two major parties. Similar to the Democrats, the Libertarians did not address, condone, or endorse any specific religious freedom actions or proposed legislation. They simply expressed their general position with regard to religious liberty. In section “1.2 Expression and Communication”, the party writes:
We support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. We favor the freedom to engage in or abstain from any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others. We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion. (p. 2)
That is the only section that directly mentions religion or religious freedom; however, it is implied within other held positions affecting “personal liberty,” such as abortion, parenting and marriage equality. In all cases, Libertarians stress that government should “stay out of the matter.” (p. 3)
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson supports the platform in full. However, in his book Seven Principles of Good Government, he did note a nuance with regard to child care. He supports the use of government vouchers for child care, if and when it is within a religious facility. (p. 96-97)
More recently, The Deseret News published an op-ed with Johnson, who addresses religious freedom to the news agency’s Mormon readership. He wrote, “Given the divisiveness and pain that have accompanied several state religious freedom laws, I approach attempts at legislating religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws with great sensitivity and care.”
Johnson goes to say that he supports religious belief but fears “politically-driven legislation which claims to promote religious liberty” and is used to for discrimination. Here he is referring to the RFRAs.
In his conclusion, Johnson writes, “America is big enough to accommodate differences of opinion and practice on religious and social beliefs. As a nation and as a society, we must reject discrimination, forcefully and without asterisks. Most importantly, as president I will zealously defend the Constitution of the United States and all of its amendments.”
“As a matter of right, all persons must have the opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, any discrimination by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, religion, or physical or mental ability that denies fair treatment and equal justice under the law.” (10 Key Values)
The Green Party addresses religious freedom throughout its platform. In its Ten Key Values, the party condemnes the “systematic degradation or elimination of our constitutional protections,” and as part of that, they support the “U.S. constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and that there shall be no religious test for public office.” The Greens go on to say that they look to eliminate laws that “discriminate against particular religious beliefs or non-belief,” as well as eliminating the use of public funds to support “faith-based initiatives.” (Democracy)
In the Social Jusice section of the document, the Greens restate their support of the Bill of Rights, and then go on to offer a call to action with regard to a number of common situations in which religious freedom enters the debate. These situations include “curricula in government-funded public schools,” the Pledge of Allegiance, displays in public spaces, courtroom oaths, Boy Scouts, abortion, tax exemptions and more.
The Greens say, “We affirm the right of each individual to the exercise of conscience and religion, while maintaining the constitutionally mandated separation of government and religion. We believe that federal, state, and local governments must remain neutral regarding religion.”
On her own site, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein reiterated key components of the party platform. She only mentions religion specifically once, and that is with regard to foreign policy. She writes, “U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality.”
In a 2016 interview with OntheIssues, Stein spoke about religious freedom within the U.S. She said “We don’t live in a religious country–in the sense of having no national religion, and instead the separation of church & state–so faith should not be a public issue. […] Failing to separate church and state is a bad prescription.” Stein added that she brings a “perspective of religious neutrality,” which she believes is needed in this diverse “modern world.”
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While statistics appear to tell a story of a decreased interest or concern with religion’s place in politics, the decline is still very small. Whether religion is dealt with in specific terms, as the Republican Party did, or in more general ways like the Libertarians, it will continue to play a significant role in the American political machine. Religious conviction can be found underlying many major social issues, such as marriage equality and abortion rights, and at forefront of other debates, such as in public prayer and holiday displays. The U.S. may not be a religious country, but it is a country that continues to concern itself profoundly with the practice of religion, or lack thereof, in its many forms.
Editor’s Note: The Wild Hunt Inc is a non-profit news journal and does not take a position for or against any one party.