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Voting population divided on relationship between religion, politics

August 28, 2012

The inclusion of religious rhetoric in political speech was designed to attract certain ideological communities, yet some voters strive to isolate religious thought from their political decisions during the national election.

“Religious parties appeal to certain attitudes, certain belief structures in a population so those belief structures can span from more liberal to more conservative,” said Jeffrey Pugh, a professor of religious studies at Elon University.

Despite the declaration of the separation of church and state during the 1787 Constitutional Convention, religious beliefs have seeped into political discussion and influenced political parties’ campaigns and politicians’ favorability among voters. Frank Lambert, the author of Religion in American Politics, cites the election of 1800 as the first evidence of the melding of the two spheres of influence when a clergyman criticized Thomas Jefferson, calling him “unfit to lead a ‘Christian nation.'”

More than 200 years later, religion is not barred from political discussion.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney referenced religious sacraments, such as marriage, in his acceptance speech to align himself with those of conservative thought with respect to same-sex marriage. Additionally, he filled his speech with anecdotes about his experience in church, continually iterating his religious affiliation.

However, an increasing percentage of America’s voting population does not support the incorporation of religion in the political sphere. A report produced by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press indicated a plurality of the American public, 38 percent, has expressed uneasiness with the mixing of religion and politics. The number of individuals who believe there has been too much religious talk by political leaders is at an all-time high since the center began asking the question more than a decade ago, according to the Pew survey conducted in March.

Yet, Romney’s religious references attract at least one citizen’s vote. In an article published in the New York Times, Elizabeth Cartagena of Ohio, said she intended to vote for the Republican nominee because “he’s of God, too. (She’s) a Christian.”

Pugh said Romney decided to select Rep. Paul Ryan (R- Wisc.) as his running mate in order to solidify the Catholic population’s vote.

Recent political campaigns revealed the strong relationship between religion and politics for junior Caitlyn Bonarrigo. Although Bonarrigo does not identify as a religious person, she said she tries to separate religious ideology from choices regarding the state. Instead, she bases her judgment on her experience, education and what she has read, she said.

“I never realized how much (religion) affected politics, but it has motivated me to not let it effect my decision,” Bonarrigo said.

In contrast, ARAMARK employee Seth Harman does not find fault with the intertwining of religion and politics.

#ReligionAndPolitics attracts discussion on Twitter

The religious affiliation of a political candidate strongly influences his opinion of the politician because he knows how religion influences other aspects of an individual’s life, Harman said.

“If you believe something strong enough it affects your entire life or else it is just a hobby,” he said.

Nevertheless, an anonymous representative of the Town of Elon Alderman advised local representatives to exert caution when discussing religious issues because they are not affiliated with a party, but rather are elected at-large.

“As a member of local government I’ve learned to keep my opinions to myself,” the source said.

Members of local government do not typically run with a specific party and, as a result, the public is not as aware of their personal beliefs, the representative said.

But on the national scale, the presidential nominee’s appeal will be determined by to what extent they incorporate religion into their political campaign, according to Pugh.

[View the story “Religion’s place in political discussion” on Storify]

The winner of the national election depends on who can best mobilize these religious communities, he said.

The building devoted to the religious studies department sits across from that of the political science in Elon University’s academic village. For an interactive photo, click here.

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