There Are Now As Many Nonreligious Americans As Evangelicals -- 6 Ways Politicians Can Court Their Vote
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Of course, there are also politicians who serve as examples of what not to do. When student activist Jessica Ahlquist waged a brave but lonely battle against an illegal prayer banner in her Rhode Island public high school, her Democratic state representative, Peter Palumbo, denounced her as an " evil little thing," an outrageous and completely gratuitous insult. It's safe to say that by scorning an important demographic of Democrats, Palumbo has effectively sunk any chance of ever being nominated for a higher office.
3. Prove your intellectual independence. Nothing makes nonreligious voters more nervous than a candidate who gives the impression that his political platform comes straight from the proclamations of his church, with no critical consideration or judgment in between. We'll be greatly reassured if you can prove that you have a mind of your own. President John F. Kennedy, although he was a Roman Catholic, gave the template for how to do this in a stirring speech that's still considered one of the finest examples of pro-secular rhetoric in American history:
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
(This is the speech of which Rick Santorum said, "It makes me throw up" -- another strong point in its favor.)
In 2012, Joe Biden gave a similarly strong answer during the vice-presidential debate. When he was asked about abortion, he made it clear that, regardless of his beliefs, it's wrong to legally impose one's private religious convictions on others:
I accept my church's position on abortion as what we call a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others... I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor.
4. Stand up for separation of church and state. "Secularism" is often treated as if it were a dirty word, and we want to reclaim it and give it the robust defense it deserves. What we long for, perhaps more than anything else, is a candidate who can articulate why separation of church and state is a good thing and an essential American value. We want to hear you say that church-state separation is clearly set forth in the First Amendment, and that it's spared us from religious wars and persecutions like those that ravaged Europe for centuries. We want to hear you say that America is, and was always envisioned as, a culturally and intellectually diverse melting pot whose people could all live together in peace, and that Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation helps guarantee that for everyone. It's good for religious minorities, so that their right of free exercise won't be trampled, and it's good for religious majorities, so that they're not tempted to sell out their principles for political power or expediency. Secularism is and always has been part of America's DNA, and we'll respond positively to leaders who aren't afraid to say so.