Asking candidates about their religious beliefs: fair game

Some candidates—like Michelle Bachmann—boast that God told them to run for office. Others—like Rick Perry—unashamedly use religious doctrines as political talking points. But when opponents or media interviewers ask them about their beliefs, they act as though they’re being attacked unfairly, and try to make these questions off-limits.

In an article in the New York Times, entitled “Not Just Between Them and Their God,” the newspaper’s executive editor, Bill Keller says: “There is a sense, encouraged by candidates, that what goes on between and candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is us useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets.”

Keller urges us to get over that:

…I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible…or some other authority higher than the Constitution and the laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history…I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises…And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.”

And Keller is doing something to try to help us get that information. He has sent Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney a questionnaire. Some of the questions he asked include:

Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” And what does that mean in practice?

Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?

What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution and do you believe it should be taught in the public schools?

Keller’s questionnaire also includes questions specific to certain candidates. He plans to post each campaign’s answers—if there are any—on “And if they don’t answer,” adds Keller, “Let’s keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”


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