Grad essay honorable mentions: Religious pandering, politicking a travesty – By Ryan Collins

The following student essays earned honorable mention status. Each author was awarded $200 by FFRF.

Religious pandering, politicking a travesty

By Ryan Collins

We, as Americans, have the freedom to believe in whatever higher power(s) we want to believe in. But we also have the freedom to not believe. We have the power to dissent, to question and to reject organized religion.

Three things should concern freethinking citizens and voters of the United States:

1. American politicians are continually pandering to religious groups.

2. Church politicking has eliminated the boundaries between church and state.

3. Politicians are enforcing religious litmus tests that threaten the freedoms that our country was founded upon, silencing the voice of secular citizens and secular politicians.

Unfortunately, religiosity in American politics has tarnished the sanctity of representative democracy in the United States.

Speaking to more than 30,000 people at a rally in Alabama, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pumped up his crowd of loyal fans and voters by appealing to religious voters, namely evangelicals. Speaking about his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump declared, “That’s my second favorite book of all time. You know what my favorite is? The bible! Nothing beats the bible, not even The Art of the Deal.”

Republicans pandering to the white, evangelical demographic is nothing new in American politics, but it is exceptionally disconcerting (and frightening) that there are voters who are swayed by Trump’s personal beliefs, considering this was a man who cannot share a single, correct bible verse. Trump is the prime example how pandering is used to attract religious voters by simply invoking the bible or throwing “God” in political speeches.

It’s one thing for a politician to want to push for policies and platforms that are based on their “deeply held” beliefs, but it is another thing for a politician to take advantage of religious voters to continue the Christian privilege that persists in American politics.

The separation of church and state is an issue that is mostly dismissed by politicians because the two are strange bedfellows. The problem can sometimes be ignored, but whenever elections occur, churches are breeding grounds for overt and subversive religious politicking.

“What houses of worship cannot do, under federal law, is to endorse or oppose candidates for public office,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “They may not use their resources to intervene in a partisan race. Houses of worship cannot become cogs in anyone’s political machine.”
Defying Lynn’s statement, religious institutions have ignored the separation of church and state when it comes to politicians. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign “announced the endorsement of Pastor Jack Hibbs, the founder and senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in southern California, a church of approximately 9,000 attendees,” writes Bob Eschliman of Charisma News.

Instead of churches preaching the gospel and the teachings of Christ, they are further blurring and degrading the boundaries between church and state by using the pastor’s pulpit for political means.

The biggest threat to secular and nonreligious liberties is the travesty of religious litmus tests. Pandering and church politicking is definitely an issue that citizens should notice, however, the most salient issue that secular citizens should be fighting is the fact that in some states, atheists and nonreligious citizens cannot run for office. In the North Carolina Constitution, it states that one of the disqualifications for office is “any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”

Religious litmus tests are, without a doubt, a complete travesty of the democratic principles this country was founded upon. Hopefully, one day, reason shall prevail.
Ryan Collins, 23, was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. He was raised as a Southern Baptist, but considers himself a secular humanist. He earned a degree in history and RTVF (Radio, TV and Video Film) from the University of North Texas in 2015. He is now a grad student at UNT in the media arts program.

Freedom From Religion Foundation