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Religion is too prominent in politics

By Tyler McCarthy
On February 19, 2012

A few weeks ago, it seemed almost certain that the 2012 race for the presidency of the United States would be between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In the past week, however, GOP candidate Rick Santorum has been gaining momentum. He's risen so high in the polls that he is not only nipping at the heels of Romney and the nomination but he's also gotten the attention of the Obama campaign, which are now forced to take him seriously as a candidate.

Santorum does not go out of his way to hide the fact that he is a Catholic. His religious beliefs are his to have. He is an American citizen, and freedom of belief is guaranteed to him. That being said, I'm forced to ask why I keep hearing about it in a presidential race. One of the reasons that the Obama campaign responded to Santorum was over his recent accusations that the president is not a Christian as he claims to be. I'm not exactly one to shy away from a chance to criticize Barack Obama, but arguing that he isn't being guided by the Bible is a bit of a stretch.

The religious outcry comes in the wake of Obama's latest decision to require employers who provide healthcare to provide contraceptive coverage as well. Many private business organizations, particularly those with a Christian backing, feel that this is a direct infringement on their freedoms. Thus, Santorum's attack on Obama's religious values were something that needed to be responded to and it propelled Santorum to a newly discovered place of legitimacy in the 2012 race.

I'm not here to specifically criticize Obama's latest decision. I'm much more interested in criticizing the direction that the American people are allowing themselves to go in. I understand why a presidential race is so dense with religious undertones – it's because today's issues are as well.

Abortion rights, gay marriage and dealing with the religious controversy of the Middle East — all of these issues boil down to non-secular philosophical differences. As a result, the lines governing a separation of church and state in our beloved country are blurring more and more each day. A candidate's religion is not only a major platform for their campaign, it's also relevant to how they plan to run the country.

This is a dangerous road that we're traveling on. A quote from one of my favorite movies, "Charlie Wilson's War," is, "America doesn't fight religious wars, that's why I like it so much."

While this quote refers to an entirely different kind of religious war, it still holds up today. Our country is in a strange place. Our issues have no right or wrong answer, depending on who you are. We're flying by the seat of our pants when it comes to policy, and many have turned to religion to guide them. That's fine for the occasional morally conflicted man or woman, but those who want to run the country are supposed to maintain a separation of these beliefs from their policy making and their campaigning. GOP candidates, not just Santorum, should not be able to run on a religious platform. In addition, Obama should absolutely be held accountable for his actions and policies, but not by the Bible. Every second we spend on religious debates is a second we don't spend solving the issues.

Our country is staring down the barrel of a major shift in the way we view ourselves and our tolerance of religion. It may seem cold and calculating to abandon religion in debates on gay marriage or contraception but it's what we need to do. We cannot let religion dictate who we are - that's not who we are. These questions need to be answered, but the governing principles behind them should not be the Christian view of the Bible or any other non-secular set of rules. American policy always has been, and always should be, governed by freedom. We must ensure that everyone's freedom is being taken care of to the best of our governing abilities. While I still consider myself a true Republican, I can assure you that my vote will go to whoever can demonstrate the ability to think like an American, not like a theologian.

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