Grad student essay contest sixth place tie: Mixing ice cream and manure – By Regina Riem

FFRF awarded Regina $400.

By Regina Riem

In order for a true democracy to thrive, it is imperative for the people living in that society to be able to freely and confidently debate and express their opinions. Laws criminalizing someone for their beliefs are not only unjust, but also detrimental to the cornerstone of democracy. As history proves time and time again, no good comes out of mixing religion and politics, a combination which often leads to tension and conflicts when vastly different doctrines clash.

The most obvious example of conflicting theological ideologies is the seemingly ongoing war pitting Christians against Islam. Benjamin Kwashi, a Nigerian Anglican archbishop from Jos, said of his country’s 2015 general election, “When religions like Christianity and Islam have a huge following of hungry, not very educated people on both sides, then politicians will explore the areas of religion to get them on their sides. That’s a very dangerous and bad thing to do. It’s not fair, and it’s not right.”

Since 2001, Nigeria has been a hotbed for deadly disputes between the predominantly Christian “indigenes” and Muslim “settlers.” In 2011, 800 people perished during skirmishes throughout northern Nigeria after Muhammadu Buhari lost the general election.

Because the average Nigerian is devoutly religious, with towns like Jos serving as a microcosm of the evident divide affecting the nation, he becomes an easy target for deceptive tactics by politicians who are looking to secure the perks of holding office. While religion in itself might not incite conflict between different factions, politicians hungry and desperate to get into office will use the divide to their advantage.

As Archbishop Kwashi states in an interview with the BBC, “Religion by its very nature and content appeals not so much to reason. It’s a heart matter and carries with it huge emotions.” The use of religious affiliation as a campaign tactic is both manipulative and irrelevant to an individual’s leadership qualifications and potential. A candidate could be a devout Muslim and a great leader or a morally righteous Christian but a terrible leader, and vice versa.

As a young secular voter, I realize Americans are not immune to the deceptive tactics of a desperate career politician looking to either maintain or move up in the political hierarchy. Some candidates will say anything and everything to appeal to voters. Most recently, Sen. Ted Cruz came under fire after he told reporters, “I am a Christian first, and an American second.” While I interpret his comment as merely an attempt to court the Religious Right that makes up the core of Republican voters, it is still a questionable comment for an individual representing our body of government to make during an important election. Basically, he is saying his faith comes before his duty to work for and protect the common good of America.

While the United States is not a theocratic body of government and does not sponsor any one religion, many Americans identify themselves as Christians, including a lot of our politicians and our city officials. The Constitution protects everyone’s right to freely and openly practice any religion.

There is nothing wrong with Cruz openly practicing his faith. The danger of mixing religion and politics presents itself when politicians and city officials use their belief as grounds for pushing certain legislation and, in the process, infringing on the rights of Americans, such as the case of same-sex marriage. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling, a county clerk in Kentucky still decided to deny marriage licenses to several homosexual couples, because it went against her religious beliefs.

The voting trend in the United States does not differ much from the trend in Nigeria. American voters are just as likely to write off a candidate for a character flaw, appearance or a negative association with an ideology or religion. It should not have to boil down to something as trivial as religious affiliations or a lack of thereof, because the duty of a politician ought to be protecting the good of the people regardless of their creed. However, that is not the case.

We are putting individuals into office because the label “Christian” gives a candidate an almost Christ-like image and appeal, when that might be far from the truth. Voters could be writing off a suitable candidate, with all of the qualifications to do the job, because the candidate has a name such as Muhammadu Buhari or Barack Obama or identifies as Muslim.

As minister and social justice advocate Tony Campolo best summed it up, “Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t do much to the manure but it sure does ruin the ice cream.”

Regina Riem, 25, is a student at Herkimer County Community College in New York, where she is working toward an associate’s degree in human services. From there, she plans to transfer into a bachelor’s program. She also works as a resident associate in an assisted-living community for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. She enjoys reading.

Freedom From Religion Foundation