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RELIGION AND THE U.S.
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES
IN THE YEAR 2000

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Quotations:

bulletBy George W. Bush:
bullet"When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart and changes your life and that's what happened to me." At the Iowa Republican TV debate on 1999-DEC-13.
bullet"As a public official, I take seriously my duty to encourage tolerance and respect for the religious views of others." In a letter of apology to Cardinal O'Connor
bullet"I don't think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made." On ABC's Good Morning America, 1999-JUN-24. His reference was to a Wiccan coven on a Texas army base having been granted equal rights to other religious groups on base.
bulletBy others:
bullet"At every stage of what we do in this campaign, we rely on prayer and we trust in God's will. We rely on our faith and we work in that fashion." Alan Keyes at a New Hampshire campaign stop.
bullet"We have not since 1960, seen religion injected in such an ugly way in a presidential campaign." Karl Row, spokesperson for George W Bush, referring to charges during J.F. Kennedy's campaign in 1960 that he was the Vatican's candidate.
bullet"One of the reasons I'm running for president is that a lot of family issues are headed in the wrong direction," Gary Bauer, former head of the fundamentalist Christian Family Research Council, at a New Hampshire campaign stop.
bullet"I'm a sinner, but by the grace of -- the only difference between me and a homosexual or an adulterer or a murder is that the cross of Jesus Christ has separated us." Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University on Larry King Live, 2000-MAR-3. 

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Overview of religion and political races:

Religious faith has intermittently surfaced as a major factor in presidential primaries:

bullet1928: The nation debated whether Governor Al Smith, the Democratic candidate and a Roman Catholic, would put his loyalty to his church's policies above that of the U.S. Constitution and the nation itself.
bullet1960: J.F. Kennedy, who became the first Roman Catholic president, stated publicly that he would be loyal to the U.S. Constitution even if he had to go against a position that his church had taken.
bullet1976: Jimmy Carter discussed his personal relationship with God. He later talked about feelings of lust that he had experienced towards women other than his wife.

Religion resurfaced in 1999 and 2000 during the race towards the presidential elections. Every leading candidate, with the exception of Bill Bradley, openly testified "about their faith in God and how that would help them should they win the presidency...Republicans Keyes, Bauer, Steve Forbes and, to a lesser extent, Bush cite the Bible in vigorously speaking out against what they view as the nation's moral decay." 4  Even the Democrats got into the act. Vice-president Gore has repeatedly called himself a born-again Christian; he has often asked himself "What would Jesus do." "Elaine Kamarck, one of Gore's top advisors, told a newspaper last summer [1999], 'The Democratic Party is going to take God back this time." 8

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State expressed concern on 1999-DEC-17 about this heavy emphasis on religion. "I don't expect that candidates or political leaders will or should forget all their religious principles when they step into a government building. On the other hand, one cannot avoid the sense that this election cycle more than any other is filled with people pandering to voters on the basis of their religious affiliation." 7

Lynn commented again later in 2000-FEB that: "Right now in Iran voters are trying to separate religion and politics. Unfortunately, here in the United States, we appear to be going in the opposite direction. Late last year, I voiced concerns about this trend. Now we're seeing how divisive this issue can be. All the presidential campaigns should immediately drop this tactic from their political bag of tricks."

Religion may well remain a permanent factor in this and future elections. One contributing factor is the large number of unresolved controversies over social policies which have a strong religious or ethical component, including: access to abortion, affirmative action, adding sexual orientation to hate crimes legislation, expanding employment discrimination to include sexual orientation, the posting in public schools of the Ten Commandments, equal rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry, gun control, etc.

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Religious affiliation of presidential candidates:

Candidates for the presidency in the 2000 elections come from a variety of religious affiliations:

bulletBaptist: Gary Bauer & Al Gore
bulletEpiscopalian: Steve Forbes & John McCain
bulletMethodist: George W. Bush
bulletPresbyterian: Bill Bradley
bulletRoman Catholic: Alan Keyes 4

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The Bob Jones University incident:

Bob Jones University (BJU) is a Fundamentalist Christian college in Greenville SC. 1 It has had an interesting history:

bulletIt barred African-American students, regardless of ability, until 1970.
bulletIt lost its tax-exempt status in 1983, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an IRS decision that was critical of the school's racist practices.
bulletSome of the school leadership has attacked Roman Catholicism, calling it a "satanic cult." They reject Mormonism as well. Bob Jones III stated on Larry King Live that "Mormonism is pantheistic." On other occasions he called ex-President Bush a devil, and described the pope as the Anti-Christ.
bulletThe school banned inter-racial dating, whether Caucasian-Black, Caucasian-Asian or any other combination. They cancelled the ruling on   2000-MAR-3. (They have allowed inter-racial married couples to attend BJU.)  Bob Jones III justified the past policy on Larry King Live, stating that "We stand against the one-world government, against the coming world of anti-Christ, which is a one world system of blending, of all differences, of blending of national differences, economic differences, church differences, into a big one ecumenical world. The Bible is very clear about this...we are against the one world church. We are against one economy, one political system...inter-racial marriage is a genetic blending, which is a very definite sort of blending. Later in the program, he admitted that: "We can't point to a verse in the Bible that says you shouldn't date or marry inter-racial [sic]...No, we can't back it up with a verse from the Bible. We never have tried to, we have never tried to do that." 5 They apparently dropped the ban on inter-racial dating because of public revulsion of the policy from outside the university.
bulletThey have many additional rules limiting student behavior: no secular music, television, movies, dancing, or hand-holding. Homosexuals are expelled whenever detected. Internet access is filtered.

The school has traditionally invited conservative politicians and candidates from the Republican Party to address students for many decades, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and Jack Kemp. They did not invite John McCain; Bob Jones III said that McCain is not conservative "to our way of thinking...he could very easily have the Democratic label upon him..." During the 2000 campaign, the students heard talks by two candidates: Dr. Alan Keyes delivered a speech that was critical of the university's policies and opinions. Gov. G.W. Bush also gave a speech, but was not critical. Later, on The Late Show with David Letterman, he commented "I missed a chance. I should have stood up there and said, listen, if you're going to bash Catholics, I'm going to come after you...That's the way I feel. I've got a good record in Texas about being -- bringing people together. I've got a good record, as you mentioned, of being a uniter not a divider." McCain was critical both of BJU and of Bush for agreeing to speak at the university. McCain said that if he had been given the opportunity to speak there, he would tell the school "they ought to get out of the 16th century and into the 21st century." In calls made to Michigan voters McCain's campaign personnel said that Bush "stayed silent [about] anti-Catholic bigotry...[while] seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists." Bush wrote a letter of apology to Cardinal O'Connor, saying: "On reflection, I should have been more clear about disassociating myself from anti-Catholic settlements and racial prejudice. It was a missed opportunity." 2,3

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McCain attacks Bush & the Religious Right:

On 2000-FEB-28, Senator John McCain, Republican presidential candidate, made allegations about front-runner Texas Governor George W. Bush. He alleged that Bush had tied himself to leaders of the Religious Right who, he said, peddle intolerance and division. McCain said in Virginia Beach, VA: "Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate..."They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them," McCain said, adding that he would take steps in office to restrict abortion." He said that: "I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore. Unfortunately, Gov. Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore," There appears to be little or no difference between McCain and Bush on abortion access. However, during the Illinois campaign, Pat Robertson allegedly financed a campaign to make mass random phone calls to voters, suggesting that a vote for McCain would result in more babies being aborted.

McCain's attack seems to have backfired. On MAR-7, called "Super Tuesday," presidential primaries were conducted in some very populous states (CA, OH, NY, etc). During exit poll interviews, most of the people who said that they were influenced by McCain's comments, had voted for Bush. McCain ended up with the support of relatively few delegates, compared to Governor Bush. He withdrew his candidacy on MAR-9. Rosie DiManno noted that TV commentators speculated that "McCain had sacrificed much significant popular support with the hard-right Republicans he needed to lure, while at the same time cultivating no further affection among the populace that was already on his side." 6

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Illegal actions by some churches:

According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State there have been a number of congregations which have intervened in the presidential primaries in spite of federal tax law that forbids such activity:

bullet2000-FEB-13: Rev. Floyd Flake, the pastor of Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City, NY, endorsed Al Gore, who spoke from the pulpit
bullet2000-FEB-20: Rev. E.L. Branch, the pastor of Third New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, MI, told his congregation that they could help disrupt the primary in Michigan by voting for McCain.

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Associated essay on this web site:

bulletPositions of leading presidential candidates on religiously related topics

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References

  1. Bob Jones University has a web page at: http://www.bju.edu/
  2. Bob Jones III, "A letter to the nation from Bob Jones University," 2000-MAR-3, at: http://www.bju.edu/response.htm 
  3. "Divisive campaign: Religious rhetoric used as a wedge," ReligionToday, at: http://www.religiontoday.com/Archive/FeatureStory/ 
  4. Bill Strab: "God is my vice president: Religion on the campaign trail," Naples Daily News, Naples, FL. Online at: http://www.naplesnews.com/today/religion/d401498a.htm
  5. Transcript of The Larry King Show for 2000-MAR-3 at: http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0003/03/lkl.00.html 
  6. Rosie DiManno, "McCain baits the religious bear to his peril," The Toronto Star, 2000-MAR-8, Page A2.
  7. The Americans United for Separation of Church and State web site is at: http://www.au.org Their press releases are linked to: http://www.au.org/press.htm
  8.  "Presidential campaign descending into 'Holy War,' charges Americans United," Press release, 2000-FEB-24, at: http://www.au.org/pr22400.htm 

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Site navigation: Home page Religious information > Basic info > here

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Copyright © 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR-9
Latest update: 2000-MAR-9
Author: B.A. Robinson

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