The role of religion in American politics is getting a great deal of press recently, so much so that TIME magazine devoted its cover story to exploring just how religious America wants their public officials to be. Of all likely voters, only 28% felt it very important that a presidential candidate be a religious person, according to the TIME poll. Despite this fact, 56% see religious values as a tool that public figures should use to guide their actions.
As the summer begins, it is apparent that "this is becoming the most religiously infused political campaign in modern history," says the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Americans want political leaders to have a moral center, but I do not think that Americans expect the President to also be their national pastor," says Lynn. In light of recent allegations of church electioneering, it is essential that both politicians and houses of worship remember the important role separation of church and state plays in the preservation of our most precious institutions.
Houses of worship may address political and social issues, but federal tax law bars religious non-profits groups from endorsing candidates. It is not the job of religious leaders to tell people which candidates to vote for or against. The TIME story reveals strong divisions in American public life over these complicated issues. At times like this, it is most important for politicians and religious leaders alike to avoid stoking the flames of religious conflict. Our nation must not lose sight of America's tradition of separation of church and state. Article VI of the Constitution speaks clearly on the point: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."