After the circus of this presidential election is over, a president will be inaugurated in January. The leader of our “One Nation Under God” will be sworn in with his hand on a Bible. But it’s time for our government to follow the rest of the country and become more secular, honoring the principle of separation of church and state.
On Oct. 9, the Pew Research Center published a poll that showed that, for the first time, fewer than half of all American adults (48 percent) claim to be Protestant Christians. Not only that, the number of religiously unaffiliated has increased to 20 percent of all American adults, up from 15 percent five years ago. This includes more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public) — a plurality (42 percent) of which are ages 18 to 29.
But our government doesn’t reflect the country’s movement away from organized religion. Only one congressman, California Democrat Pete Stark, is openly atheist. In fact, Texas and a few other states have laws against atheist politicians. The very Constitution of our “God-blessed” state reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”
That law currently seems unnecessary, since, according to a June Gallup Poll, only 54 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist (regardless of their political views) in a presidential election.
Thankfully, the students I spoke to on campus were more open-minded. Travis Granado, a philosophy and religious studies sophomore, said he’s “more concerned with how public policy will be affected by a candidate’s religious convictions than I am about finding a candidate that has religious views similar to mine.”
André Treiber of the University Democrats recognizes that religion is very personal, and he argues that it should stay that way. “I will not cast a vote for a candidate that would enforce their religious beliefs onto other people,” Treiber said. “Past that, I don’t do anything like pray over issues or candidates, nor do I let a candidate’s personal religious preference have an effect on my vote.”
Both students expressed concern over religion’s current involvement in politics. Governor Rick Perry’s resistance to gays serving openly in the military especially concerned Granado. “It made me question his ability to provide equality for all Americans if his idea of equality is dependent on adherence to a religious belief system,” he said. Treiber agreed, saying, “I think religion has a very negative effect on politics. Currently, we are seeing gays and lesbians denied marriage and a woman’s right to make her own private decisions under attack, all loosely justified by clinging to Bible scripture.”
Gay marriage is indeed an issue especially affected by religion; the Oct. 9 Pew Research Center poll found that 73 percent of the religiously unaffiliated approved of same-sex marriage, whereas only 41 percent of those affiliated with a religious group approved of it.
The Young Conservatives of Texas did not respond to an interview request, but we shouldn’t mistakenly believe that only the “religious right” hides behind religion. Last month, the Democrats included God in their national platform.
It’s time for American political parties to start abiding by the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. I have faith that God can take care of Himself; let’s take care of ourselves by defending freedom, regardless of religion.
McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas.