In 1960, the Democratic Presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, reassured voters he would not let the Catholic Church control his actions in the White House. Today, in the heated Presidential election of 2004, between incumbent Bush and presidential hopeful Kerry, religion is still a hot issue. Bush-Cheney billboards reading “One nation under God” are sprinkled along side Michigan’s highways. Kerry refers to himself as an altar boy. Both candidates are bringing Jesus along for the ride on the campaign trail but Americans are still unsure whether they are guided by their faith or pandering for votes.
[cross] “I want to see that it’s more than just talk,” Amanda Younglove of the Baptist Student Union-Christian Challenge said. “It’s important in my mind that the President has a deep relationship with God because it will guide him. He has to have good moral foundation.”
Others at MSU feel that the presence of religion in politics can alienate voters who do not share the candidate’s beliefs. Signs like the Bush-Cheney billboard, emblazed with the flag, suggest that non-Christians are somehow un-American.
“As an atheist, I feel marginalized in politics because no one wants to admit we exist,” Sean Davis of the Freethinkers Alliance said. “I think religion is used as a tool to get votes more than an affirmation of what one believes. Over the past four years, I have felt that this president has pushed his belief structure a little too hard on the American people,” he added.
[god2] When Sen. John Kerry was forced to defend his pro-choice stance on abortion during the second presidential debate on October 19, he brought up his religious background but held that the state cannot legislate faith. “I’m a Catholic, raised a Catholic,” Kerry said at the debate. “I was an altar boy… It helped lead me through war, leads me today. But I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith.” By bringing up his faith, Kerry attempted to soften his image among the conservative pro-life voters.
Like Kennedy, Kerry has to deny that his allegiance to the Catholic Church (and thus the Pope) would not interfere with White House decisions should he become President. Yet, he does his best to appeal his faith to voters.
President George W. Bush does not defend his faith, but he mentions it frequently. The evangelical Protestant developed a reputation in his first term for referencing his religious beliefs in speeches. When asked about appointing pro-life Supreme Court judges in the same Presidential debate, Bush was adamant that he would not use abortion as a litmus test to decide whom to replace retiring members of this judicial panel. Yet, one particular criterion for a potential appointment appealed to him.
“I wouldn’t pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn’t be said in school because it had the words ‘under God’ in it,” Bush said.
President Bush has come under criticism for such policies as Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, giving money to faith-based groups to do charity work in their communities. Critics disapprove of these actions, because they place government favor with certain religious communities, as well as blurring the line separating church and state.
Party affiliation aside, it is apparent that this line is growing more and more unclear as candidates use religion as a wedge to split voters on partisan issues and, in the process, perhaps win a new audience of voters. It is still unknown, however, how the candidates’ use of religion will swing voters, but one thing is certain concerning religion in this election: both Bush and Kerry have placed themselves safely “under God.”

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