Influence in Washington This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Whatever issue may come before me as president – birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject – I will make my decision … in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the ­national interest, and without regard to outside ­religious pressures.
– John F. Kennedy (1960)

John F. Kennedy, a devout Catholic, pledged not to let his religious beliefs interfere with his decisions as president. I agree that religion is personal, and in the United States it should be a politician’s duty to keep religious views separate from political matters.

Before the selection of the 2008 presidential nominees, a number of ­religious and minority party platforms have had an effect on voters. It is ­important to take note of these political platforms in order to ­understand their role in this year’s presidential ­elections.

Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Republican and a Southern Baptist minister, called for a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. He stated, “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.” While it has been appropriate and justified to amend the Constitution (for the creation of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery or the Nineteenth Amendment to grant women suffrage), I believe the amendment Huckabee endorses is both inappropriate and unjust. I don’t think it is a president’s place to make decisions to meet what he/she believes are God’s standards; rather, I believe the standards of the American people and the greater good of society must be considered.

On this issue, in an 1802 letter addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson drew upon the Constitution, stating that the legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” He went on to add that it is important to build “a wall of separation between Church and State.” Yet Huckabee’s supporters admire him most for his Christian principles.

Huckabee seems to believe being president is not about making policy decisions based on the whole of the national interest. He seems to think it is about making decisions that will appeal to the evangelical right and reflect Christian moral values on issues such as stem cell research, prayer in schools, same-sex marriage, and gay rights. Although he is no longer running, his views reflect a large segment of voters who continue to be a factor in the coming elections.

Mitt Romney, another former Republican presidential candidate, seemed to draw on Kennedy’s speech for his own “Faith in America” address: “Let me ­assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.” However, Romney, a Mormon, showed his opinion on the relationship between religion and freedom when he said, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.” Romney suggests that the U.S. government cannot survive without religion, but I don’t agree. The relationship between religion and freedom is not a symbiotic one: Religion does require freedom, but not necessarily vice versa.

In contrast to the Republican presidential candidates, it seems that Democratic candidates generally do not address religion. One exception is Democratic nominee Barack Obama and the controversy surrounding his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who has been known to make what Obama characterized as “inflammatory and appalling” statements regarding racism in America and claimed that our government provoked the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Although I ­believe this controversy centers more around race than religion, some still question whether Obama shares his pastor’s views, and how this may affect his opinion on separation of church and state.

America is a melting pot of religions, and there are many who practice no religion at all, yet their political freedom is not jeopardized. Those who argue that religion is necessary to keep society grounded in moral values are making sweeping generalizations about both religious and non-religious people. One can be ethical and moral without practicing any particular religion. Furthermore, while many religions emphasize values like honesty, ­respect, and doing good works, not all ­religious people put these concepts into action.

In addition to religion being a factor in this year’s election, a number of minority parties have had an ­influence. The Libertarian Party (the third largest ­political party in the U.S.) was founded in 1971 by David Nolan. He is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the creator of the Nolan Chart (www.nolanchart.com/survey.php), which presents economic and social issues in a format that helps people determine their political views. Traditionally, Libertarians are economically conservative and socially liberal. The Libertarian Party is pro-choice, supports gay rights, and opposes any laws or amendments that define marriage. The party’s platform (lp.org) does not specifically mention the war in Iraq, but it does state the importance of non-intervention.

The Green Party, officially formed in 2001, has 10 key values (gp.org). They include grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, ecological wisdom, nonviolence, and gender equity. The Green Party is fairly liberal on social issues; for example, the party is pro-choice and in favor of gay rights and civil unions. The Greens call for the repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act. The party’s primary focus is environmental issues, calling for conservation of electricity, reduction in fuel consumption, the disuse of nuclear power reactors, and reduction in the use of toxic chemicals and pollutants.

The Socialist Party USA is the most radical of the popular minority parties, especially when it comes to social issues. It is pro-choice and in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Although the No Child Left Behind Act is not mentioned, the party wants to end military recruiting in educational institutions. It seeks to limit carbon dioxide emissions, fight global warming, and is opposed to using minority communities as disposal sites for hazardous waste. The Socialist Party USA wants to immediately withdraw all troops from Iraq, in addition to cutting the military budget and closing all U.S. military facilities. This is no surprise, since Socialists have always been anti-war. Eugene Debs, who ran for president on the Socialist ticket in the early 1900s, condemned the government’s attitude toward war in 1918, saying, “They are continually talking about your patriotic duty. It is not their but your patriotic duty that they are concerned about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches.”

As a first-time voter, it is important that I make an informed decision. I believe that faith is a personal matter and should not be debated in the public arena as a principle on which we vote. I hope my peers will also select the candidate who they think is fit for the presidency based solely on his political strengths and merits and what he could do for our nation. I highly value my freedom to be an independent thinker, and I will exercise my right by making educated choices when it comes to voting. My hope is that other young voters will do the same.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

fg6789 said...
Jan. 21, 2009 at 7:36 pm
I agree politicans are influencing more and more people to become politically active.
 
RGeorge said...
Sept. 9, 2008 at 1:24 am
Amanda, your argument is very good and has been done by many of learned Liberal leaning secularists. However, the flaw is this. Every single decision made is based on some value, be it from a terrestrial, celestial, or self serving motive. History has demonstrated how certain paths or decisions will result every time in where you will go by taking that path. For example, every single Nation that took the path of socialism ends up collapsing from a lack of economy due to not being able to aff... (more »)
 
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