Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looks like an all-American man. He is tall, good looking, smart, at times witty, and a model of for the capitalist system, but yet he has one giant black mark – he is Mormon. While this may be petty semantics to some, an astonishing 22% of Americans have reported that they would be hesitant for a Mormon to be president of the United States.
Religion, especially Christianity, has handcuffed American politics; politicians must pander to the religious base more than anyone, as turning your back on religious voters is the equivalent of political suicide. In order to be elected to any sort of elected office one must have some sort of connection to a religious sect and had better hope it is the right one. While religious diversity in American politics has improved throughout the years, we still fail as a nation to allow every belief a chance to be represented.
Protestantism has a strangle hold on Capitol Hill; our House of Representatives and Senate are presided over by Bible thumping zealots. Protestants make up over 57% of the 112th Congress, up from 54% in the 111th Congress, and they use their power to their advantage. They are leading the charge to strip women of their right to choose, “protect the sanctity” of marriage, and keep God in schools.
Sure, the system has improved its diversity immensely throughout the years, but it only encompasses a select few religious sects. Catholics used to have a problem being elected to public office, but now they make up nearly 25% of Congress. However, John F. Kennedy remains the only Roman Catholic to be elected president. Jewish politicians have also seen their numbers increase, but they still only represent less than 8% of the politicians on Capitol Hill. There has never been an openly non-Christian president.
Our political system does not accurately portray the diverse American public. Roughly 16% of the American public label themselves as unaffiliated to a religious sect, but there are zero unaffiliated members of Congress. The same can be said about Jehovah's Witnesses, who are only 1% of the population but still have zero elected officials representing their beliefs. The lack of Muslims in political office speaks to the uneducated fear that the majority of Americans have towards the Islamic faith; just look at the reaction Gov. Chris Christie received when he nominated a Muslim judge in New Jersey.
As we see with Romney and Huntsman, it is hardly viable to run for president as a non-Christian. President Kennedy remains the only non-Protestant to ever be elected president, and he faced numberous questions regarding his ability to lead based strictly on his faith.
The fact of the matter is, is that religion is a focal point in the voting process when it really shouldn’t be. Americans should not cast their votes based on the religious beliefs of a politician; that is how we got stuck with the last President Bush. Religion should be a nice footnote for a candidate, not a crutch – like it is for Gov. Perry – or a hindrance, like it is for Romney and Huntsman. We pride ourselves on maintaining a healthy separation of church and state, but given the dismal lack of religious diversity amongst our elected officials, that is just a pipe dream.
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