Grad essay honorable mentions: Presidency a test of faith or fitness? – By Jason Schloss

By Jason Schloss

Perhaps the most important contribution by the Founding Fathers is the concept of separation of church and state. The American colonies rebelled against a monarchy that claimed “divine right of kings” and regarded the royal head of state as leader of the official church. Thus it was truly revolutionary to take government out of the church, and to remove the church from government.

It seems abundantly clear that James Madison and the other founders did not want religion to be a deciding factor in choosing elected leaders. Thus it is particularly disturbing when religious belief becomes an issue in the presidential race.

In January of this year, at a town hall event in Iowa, a woman told Hillary Clinton that she had called into a Catholic radio show seeking guidance about the election, and the host had told her that she should choose a candidate based on faith rather than party. She then asked Clinton, “How would you say your beliefs align with the Ten Commandments and is that something that’s important to you?”

Clinton’s answer, which concluded with the hope that those who follow Christianity would use it to be tolerant rather than to condemn, contained the following words: “My study of the bible, my many conversations with people of faith, has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do.”

This sounds like the sort of thing one might hear during a Sunday morning sermon rather than a political campaign. A better response might have been: “My faith is a personal thing, and while I do find some of the Commandments useful as part of a broader moral framework, I think that the qualifications for the office of president do not require a personal statement of religious belief.” But that demands a degree of courage that politicians do not typically possess — an ability to stand up for the constitutional principles that the office they are seeking is charged with upholding, rather than the pressure to say what is politically expedient at that moment.

In June, while addressing a group of Christian leaders in New York, Donald Trump said of Clinton, “We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion. There’s like nothing out there. It’s going to be an extension of Obama, but it’s going to be worse, because with Obama you had your guard up. With Hillary you don’t, and it’s going to be worse.”

This was like meat for the wolves, and some conservative politicians unfortunately devoured it. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council responded that Clinton “would be a third term in her attack on religious liberty in general. I have no reason to attack her faith, I just question her ability to defend my right, my family’s right, my church’s right to practice our faith in the public square.”

Practice his faith in the public square? Yes, the Constitution gives him that right.
But religious practices by public officials in publicly held venues represent government endorsement of one religion over others, as well as over nonbelief, a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. The free expression of faith in one’s home or place of worship is fully protected in the First Amendment, but not for public officials imposing their faith on others who may not share those beliefs.

For someone like me, voting in only his second presidential election, the idea that faith in God is seen by many as a qualification for office concerns me. It does so because it is a clear violation of the “no religious test” clause. It also makes me feel disenfranchised as a young, secular voter who does not believe in a deity, but who does believe that separation of church and state must be staunchly defended against those who would seek to impose their own beliefs on others through government policy.

Jason Schloss, 25, was raised in East Northport, N.Y., and currently attends LIU Post, where he is a second-year graduate student, working toward a master’s degree in digital game development and design. He enjoys drawing and playing video games, both as entertainment and inspiration for his art.

Freedom From Religion Foundation