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PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:

YEAR 2000 ELECTION

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Sponsored link.


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The web site Web, White and Blue conducted a "rolling cyber-debate" from 2000-OCT-1 to NOV-7. It receives questions from the public, and submit one per day to the presidential candidates: Patrick J. Buchanan (Reform Party), George Bush (Republican), Al Gore, (Democrat), John Hagelin (Natural Law Party), and Howard Philips (Constitution Party). 1  Ralph Nader of the Green Party declined to participate in the survey.  One question, from "Amber" of San Diego CA was submitted on 2000-OCT-15 via Yahoo. She asked:

"With religious diversity increasing, what are your thoughts on the protection of religious freedom and the separation of church and state? Should religions like Wicca be banned from recognition by the military, as some legislators suggest?" 2

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Patrick J. Buchanan's response:

He is participating in the survey, but elected to not answer this question.

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George Bush's Response:

Religious Freedom And Tolerance Is A Protected Right 

"I am committed to the First Amendment principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.  Whether Mormon, Methodist, Jewish, or Muslim, Americans should be able to participate in their constitutional free exercise of religion. I do not think witchcraft is a religion, and I do not think it is in any way appropriate for the U.S. military to promote it.

Editor's comments: 

Governor Bush strongly supports religious freedom and tolerance, but apparently only for the followers of some religions. He feels that the followers of the three largest religions in the U.S. -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- should have these freedoms. But he does not wish to see believers in Wicca enjoy the same freedoms. That would terminate the religious freedoms of about 500,000 Americans. Wicca and Native American Spirituality are very similar, so one wonders about Bush's attitude towards Natives' freedom of religion. Then there are hundreds of small religions like Santeria, Vodun, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. 

In a way, Governor Bush dodged the question as did Vice President Gore: when asked about the religion of Wicca, he responded with a comment about Witchcraft. One of the 17 or so unrelated activities called Witchcraft is Wicca, but most varieties of Witchcraft are unrelated to Wicca. In fact, as Governor Bush correctly says, most " Witchcrafts" are not religions at all.

The term "promote" in Governor Bush's response might be confusing. He is an Evangelical Christian. Religious conservatives commonly use the term "promote" where others might use the term "permit," or "allow." For example, conservative Christians often refer to human sexuality courses which discuss sexual orientation in public schools as courses which promote homosexuality. In the case in question, the U.S. army does not advocate Wicca. They simply granted existing Wiccan soldiers precisely the same rights and privileges as had early been given to followers of other religions. Since U.S. courts have recognized Wicca as a religion, they have no choice but to grant equal rights to Wiccans. An excerpt from one court ruling is available.

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Al Gore's Response: 

Respect For Religion Freedom of religion need not mean freedom from religion.

"For too long, national leaders have been trapped in a dead end debate. Some on the right have said for too long that a specific set of religious values should be imposed, threatening the founders' precious separation of church and state. In contrast, some on the left have said for too long that religious values should play no role in addressing public needs. These are false choices: hollow secularism or right-wing religion. Both positions are rigid. They are not where the new solutions lie. I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. But freedom of religion need not mean freedom from religion. There is a better way. 

America's national identity is not shaped solely by our diverse faith traditions. But we are a people who believe that these traditions contribute to the formation of values with which we agree to live out our common lives together. 

Our founders believed deeply in faith. They created the Bill of Rights in large measure to protect its free expression. One reason America is the most religious country on earth is precisely because of the church-state divide: people who are free to worship as they wish, worship more freely. 

Our founders also knew history. They could look back on centuries of religious war in Europe that tore nations apart. They resolved that religious war should never tear this nation apart, and the only way to do that was to allow religious freedom. 

The history of the United States has proven our foundersí wisdom. They believed -- and I believe -- that we can protect against the establishment of religion without infringing in any way on its free exercise. That belief is at the very heart of our Constitution. And we must keep on working to make it a reality in our public life."

Editor's comments: 

Vice-President Gore clearly made three main points: 

bulletHe strongly favors the separation of church and state
bulletHe states that this wall of separation is responsible for the vigorous state of religion in America. 
bulletHe also emphasizes that lack of religious freedom in the past caused "centuries of religious war in Europe that tore nations apart."

However, he didn't answer the main part of the question: whether the religious rights of Wiccan soldiers should be terminated by the Army. It would be difficult for him to give a response to this question:

bulletIf he said that Wiccans should not be allowed religious freedom, then he essentially says that there is to be no religious freedom in the U.S. This would contradict the rest of his statement.
bulletIf he said that Wiccans should be allowed religious freedom, then conservative Christians would probably attack him for supporting Wicca. Wicca is one of about 17 unrelated activities which has been called Witchcraft. Religious conservatives often link Witchcraft to Satanism, Satan worship and Satanic Ritual Abuse. The problem here is that the single word "Witchcraft" has so many unrelated meanings 

And so, like politicians often do, he chose to ignore the question.

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John Hagelin's response: 3,4

Spirituality Has A Role In Politics:
"I would uphold a strict separation between 'church' and 'state': i.e., the government should not espouse or promote any specific doctrine or faith. Nor should any faith be denied recognition. However, while upholding the separation of church and state, I believe that spirituality and ethics, in their broadest sense, must have a key role in politics. If politics is the mechanism through which we collectively choose what kind of a nation we seek to create, then if politics is not informed by our highest, commonly shared moral and ethical principles, what is it? Unfortunately, it is what it has, in fact, become: government to the highest bidder. My Natural Law Party/Independent Coalition candidacy is to restore the highest ethical principles to government and, as important, through effective education that fully develops the mind, body, and emotions, to revitalize America from the inside out."

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Answer from Howard Phillips:

Chaplain Services In The U.S. Military Should Be Provided In Light Of The Religious Traditions Of Our Country
"The military should not provide facilities to the Church of Satan or any organization that promotes witchcraft.

The military should provide chaplain services to people who are within the religious traditions of the country.

The military has the authority to make choices regarding such matters and I would suggest that those choices be limited to providing chaplain services for individuals who are of biblical background. Our law system is a biblical law system, and to whatever degree Catholic, Protestants, Jews, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, etc. all fall within that category. However, once you go beyond the biblical heritage of our country, I think you are treading on dangerous ground.

Liberty of conscience is something that should be honored and protected, and that's why the Constitution says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

None of us should be required to subsidize the propagation of the faith of another person, regardless of whether that faith is the abortion faith, homosexual faith, the environmental faith or even the Christian faith. The government should not subsidize the propagation of ideas and that is why we should not have a Legal Services Corporation, we should not have an AIDS education program, which really promotes homosexual conduct. The government should not be subsidizing sex education programs, which encourages promiscuity or The National Endowment for the Arts, which promotes perverse cultural preferences.

A primary purpose of the First Amendment was to protect religion from government. Therefore, the government should avoid interfering with the private expression of religious faith.

However, the military is a different story and different standards apply to the military. That is why it is legitimate for the military to provide chaplain services only for persons who adhere to a biblical faith."

Editor's comments: 

Mr. Phillips ignores Native American spirituality which was the original religious "heritage of our country" prior to 1492 CE. Buddhists, Druids, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Taoists, Unitarian Universalists, and Wiccans should fear the Constitutional Party. So should followers of Asatru, Baha'i Faith, Confucianism, Jainism, Santeria, Scientology, Shinto, Vodun, Zoroastrianism, and other religions. He wants to create a two tiered religious system in the U.S., with Christianity and Judaism (biblically based faiths) having full privileges, and the rest discriminated against.

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Related essays on this Web site:

bulletWicca
bulletNeopagan religions
bulletIs Wicca a religion?
bulletU.S. district court recognition of Wicca as a religion
bulletAn excerpt on Wicca from the U.S. Army chaplain's handbook
bulletThe principle of separation of church and state
bulletCourt decisions
bulletDefinitions of "witch" in dictionaries, etc.
bulletThe 2nd "Burning Times" award given to Rep. Barr (GA)
bulletChristian boycott against Wiccans in the military
bulletFamily Research Council essay about Wicca and the Army

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References:

  1. "Web, White & Blue" web site is at: http://www.webwhiteblue.org/ 
  2. Amber's question and the responses are at: http://www.webwhiteblue.org/debate/2000-10-15/ 
  3. John Hagelin's home page is at: www.Hagelin.org
  4. The Natural Law Party's web site is at: www.NaturalLaw.org

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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-OCT-18
Latest update: 2000-NOV-6
Editor: B.A. Robinson

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