In October, the Secular Coalition for America released the 2012 Presidential Candidate Scorecard, which rates each of the presidential candidates on issues important to the secular community. Included in the scorecard were the Republican and Democratic candidates, as well as two third-party candidates that are on the ballot in enough states to amass the required 270 electoral votes to be elected president.
Libertarian Gary Johnson received a “B” grade, Democrat and incumbent President Obama received a “C,” Republican Mitt Romney received an “F,” and Green Party candidate Jill Stein received an “incomplete.” An “A” grade indicated that the candidate consistently supported the secular position.
Needless to say, there is no clear-cut option in this election for voters who make their decision based on secular values. While most people are not one-issue voters, the scorecard is another tool to use in their decision-making process.
Recently, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new study that found nearly 20 percent of Americans do not affiliate with any religion. The religiously unaffiliated comprise the largest “religious” bloc in the Democratic Party, accounting for 24 percent of registered Democrats. Yet despite the large constituency of religiously unaffiliated Americans in the Democratic Party, the Democratic candidate received a “C” when it comes to secular issues.
President Obama received positive marks for supporting science-based public school curriculums and his refusal to use religious beliefs in setting American public health care policy. However, he received failing grades for expanding taxpayer funding of religiously-affiliated organizations through the Office of Faith-based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships while allowing those organizations to continue policies of hiring discrimination based on religious beliefs.
For example, data shows that during the Bush administration religious charities received 10.8 percent of the $20.4 billion in federal dollars available in 2007—experts believe the numbers to be similarly high during the Obama administration. Not only has President Obama continued faith-based initiatives, but he failed to make good on a 2008 campaign promise to end hiring discrimination among the organizations, which received taxpayer-funding.
Romney received “F” grades for supporting abstinence-only education in public schools, his stances on faith-based initiatives and his failure to recognize the separation of church and state. He also failed when it came to his stances on health and safety issues, including support of religious refusal laws and exemptions from generally applicable law based on religion, as well as his use of personal religious beliefs to determine public health-care policy.
A Pew Forum study found that only 32 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans think it’s important for the President to have strong religious beliefs, 54 percent feel “uncomfortable” when politicians talk about how religious they are, 75 percent feel churches have no place in endorsing candidates, and 66 percent say churches should keep out of politics all together.
The majority of these Americans are not seeking a religion and think there is too much religion in politics. There are also millions of Americans who do have a god-belief that agree that religion and government should be kept separate.
With 45 million voting-age Americans, the religiously-unaffiliated is a constituency that politicians on both sides should be looking to court. The reality is that the co-mingling of religion and government from the candidates on both sides is turning off the non-religious.
While politicians certainly have the right to their personal religious beliefs, our laws should always be based on reason, science and logic—and never theology. In order to win the support of the secular community, politicians must refrain from inserting religion into government, privileging religious organizations above non-religious organizations, and promoting exemptions based on religion, particularly to organizations that receive government funding.
In a political environment where politicians are compelled to profess their personal religious beliefs, it’s important that we recognize that the population of religiously unaffiliated is growing at a rapid pace. The religiously unaffiliated are Americans who feed the hungry, heal the sick, defend our country and pay taxes—they are Americans who deserve to be represented, and not marginalized or ignored by the politicians elected to serve the interests of all Americans regardless of personal religious beliefs.
The candidates’ grades across the board indicate that there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to protecting one of the core founding principles of our country—secularism. In this election, from the primary season onward, we’ve seen religion play a large role. The ever expanding presence of religion in government—including legislation that attempts to further false definitions of religious freedom–is something we’re seeing across the country at the federal and state levels. That is one of the reasons the Secular Coalition is in the process of introducing chapters in every state to combat religiously-infused legislation at the state level.
The Secular Coalition’s scorecard helps to contrast the differences between the candidates and draw attention to the areas where the candidates need improvement. But looking forward, we hope that it will also help politicians to understand how to better serve the large and growing demographic of religious unaffiliated Americans that overwhelmingly don’t want religion in politics.
Edwina Rogers is executive director of the Secular Coalition for America.