By PJ Slinger
Justin Scott is making a name for himself among freethinkers and presidential candidates alike.
Scott, an FFRF member from Manchester, Iowa, has been able to ask almost every presidential candidate about their thoughts on state/church separation issues or on secular values. Scott has used his camera phone to take videos of his questions and responses from the candidates, who were campaigning in Iowa prior to the Iowa caucus.
The only candidates who refused to answer Scott's questions were Donald Trump and Rand Paul. "At least The Donald signed an autograph for me, thanked me for coming, and told me to take care as he walked away from me," Scott said.
Scott's videos have been viewed millions of times via various news outlets and presidential campaign websites. In fact, his video of Marco Rubio has been viewed more than 10 million times on Rubio's site. The extensive media coverage Scott has received includes the Washington Post, Time, Fox News, ABC News, Associated Press. (View Scott's Q&As yourself at goo.gl/US0LcN. Listen to Freethought Radio's interview with Scott at ffrf.org/radio.)
"It's a very exhilarating feeling to stand in front of someone that might become the next president of the United States and, for a few minutes, have them focus entirely on a question about secular values like the separation of church and state," Scott said.
He added that when he first introduces himself to the candidate, the people in the crowd have a definite reaction.
"Usually it's the gasps, blank stares, whispers that I get when I start off the question by stating, 'Hi! I'm an atheist.' It's as if I had just opened up with, 'Hi! I'm an alien from another galaxy.'"
Scott says that even though he is a self-described "political junkie," being able to ask candidates about secular and state/church separation issues has been more than he could have hoped.
"I'm not so much surprised by the [candidates'] responses but surprised by how easy it has been to get this type of access to them as a voter," he said. "I haven't had to jump through any hurdles to get right up in the front row at each event and have just been able to raise my hand and ask whatever question I wanted."
Scott, who is also a member of the Iowa Coalition of Reason, is encouraging other freethinkers around the country to follow his lead.
Below are the responses (edited for print) by the presidential candidates from questions by Scott. (FFRF is nonpartisan and does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office.)
Here's the challenge. I'm a person of faith. And I respect the fact that you're not. And you have protections under the law just as I do.
And a big tolerant nation ought to be able to say, for example, let's take the issue of gay marriage...if you walk into a bakery and you're gay, and you say "I want to buy that cake.' A person whose faith suggests that is a sin, by law has to sell that cake. But if you walked into that same store and said 'I want you to participate in my marriage with my companion,' you ought to have the right, based on religious conscience, to say no. There's a difference. We need to sort this out.
You cannot discriminate housing, employment, retail, you can't discriminate. That's how our laws work and that's the way it should work. But people of faith ought to be able to act on their faith outside of their churches and outside of their homes. . . I worry more now, frankly, about the loss of religious freedom than I do about the other side of this. We should be respectful of both.
First of all, everybody, including atheists, live according to their faith. It's just what they decide to put their faith in. And everybody's [actions] are ruled by their faith. Now, in my case, you know, I have strong faith in God and I live by godly principles: loving your fellow man, caring about your neighbor, developing your God-given talents to the utmost so that you become valuable to the people around you... and that's going to dictate how I treat everybody. Fortunately, our Constitution, which is the supreme law of our land, was designed by men of faith. And it has a Judeo-Christian foundation. Therefore, there is no conflict there. So it is not a problem.
I believe that God is an important part of what this country is all about. But what I also know [is] that the great thing about America is everybody gets to believe what they want to believe. As long as they're not trying to impose it upon me, they can believe what they want to believe. And as long as they're not committing violent acts to try and forward their point of view, go ahead and believe what you want to believe. Teach within your family what you want to teach.
I think we've gotta stick with our founding principles, separation between church and state. And remember: It was done in the beginning mostly to protect religion from the state. So we need to stick...we need to stick with what has worked.
We're seeing our constitutional rights under assault every day, whether it's free speech, which for atheists is particularly important. Whether it's religious liberty, which atheists have a right as well to not believe. Whether it's the Second Amendment or the privacy of the 10th Amendment. I've spent my whole life fighting to defend the Bill of Rights and Constitution, and as president, every day I will defend the Bill of Rights and Constitution for every American.
You're free to believe whatever you'd like in this country. So if you're an atheist, good for you. I happen to be a Christian. I happen to believe that our Christian values help me as a leader because they make me humble and empathetic and optimistic. And I think all of those qualities are vital in leadership.
No one is coercing you in any way. However, many Christians are being coerced not to practice their religion. So religious liberty is under assault in this country. When our federal government is suing the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Supreme Court, denying them their ability to practice their religion, that's a problem.
In life, there's a window of opportunity. I happen to believe there is a higher power, and the reason I believe it is because, well, I kinda felt it as a kid. And then when my parents were killed in 1987 by a drunk driver, I think the Lord rescued me. But it only happened when somebody said 'You've got a window of opportunity because of your pain. I would suggest you go through it and check it out because eternity lasts a long time.' And so, for me, 1987 was — 13 and 16, that's 29 years ago — and I've been working at this every day.
And I'm not a believer because I need a rabbit's foot or a lucky buckeye. I believe it because I've actually looked at the evidence.
This nation was founded on the principle that our rights come from our creator. If there's no creator, then where did your rights come from? And so that's why it's important for us to understand that. We're gonna protect the right of Americans to continue to believe that. We're also gonna have a country where no one is forced to violate their conscience. Which means no one's going to force you to believe in God. But no one's gonna force me to stop talking about God.
I'm more interested in eternity, and the ability to live forever with my creator. That's what I aspire to more than anything else. I believe that God, our creator, became a man, and he came down to Earth and lived among us, suffered like a man would. Emotions. Physical suffering. Emotional suffering. Pain. Illness. Sickness. Sadness. And then he died. And he died to remove sins that we couldn't remove up to that point. They could only be covered but they couldn't be removed. And, as a result, I now have the free gift of the opportunity to live forever with my creator. And I believe that passionately, and it influences every aspect of my life.
Religious freedom in this country is part of our Constitution, and all of us agree with that. And you have many different religions, and people have the right, in this country, to practice the religion that they believe in.
But we also have a separation between religion and state. We know how dangerous it is, historically, for governments to get deeply involved with religion. Let's not confuse and merge religion and state. That is not what our Founding Fathers wanted, and they were right.