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Making Candidates Take The Pledge
No Campaigning in Churches!

by Conrad F. Goeringer
November 2, 2020

It’s election day. From Philadelphia to San Francisco, voters are choosing a slew of public office hopefuls. Even though this is an off-year election, it gives us some insights of what to expect in the next twelve months leading up to the Big One in November, 2000 where control of the White House, U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives along with lesser political plums will be decided.

In at least two major races, though, a funny thing happened to the candidates on the way to the ballot box. They headed for church.

Shamelessly, the hopefuls in the Philadelphia mayoral race, John F. Street and GOP challenger Sam Katz, indulged in some last-minute vote begging which was deftly described by a local paper as “political evangelizing.”

“For Democrat Street, who stopped by four large churches, the pilgrimage was a key part of his effort to stir enthusiasm for his candidacy among voters whose support he must secure to win,” noted the Philadelphia Inquirer. Taking the pulpit at Fellowship Tabernacle, Street implored the congregation, “I want you all to vote, and I want you to get your friends to vote.”

Katz was not be outdone. Even though he identifies himself as a Jew, he headed to the Christian Stronghold Baptist Church to pitch his program and press the flesh.

... try to name the last candidate you remember who unabashedly, with no qualification, no hesitation, no equivocation, openly proclaimed I support the separation of church and state...
In San Francisco, Mayor Willie Brown worked the church circuit as well. “At the Third Baptist Church, the Rev. Amos Brown and several deacons called the mayor up in front of the congregation to pray for his success...” observed the San Francisco Chronicle. Amos, no relation to Willie, thundered, “The saints are going to pray today. On November 2, we’re going to have help down here when we cast the right vote and send Willie Brown back to office...”

Local and even national politicians stumping the church-temple-mosque circuit is something which has become so prevalent, no one seems to care -- at least if certain candidates are involved. George W. Bush and Al Gore, the likely presidential contenders for next November, have both embraced “faith-based partnerships” which bring the government, and with the public treasury, into a close grab-the-cash-and-run relationship with organized religion. Both men can be expected to do a good deal of campaigning in the sanctuary of the church or temple, identifying themselves and their respective agendas with the moral authority of organized religion.

Turn on C-Span and watch the debate on the House floor over bills to permit the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools, or make it easier for faith-based groups to compete for tax dollars, and it becomes apparent that separation of church and state has become a political liability. Separation is rarely embraced and vigorously defended by a candidate for public office; indeed, the phrase separation of church and state is more often denounced as an invention of atheists, or a combination of words which “appear nowhere in the constitution” and Rep. Bob Barr and others so diligently remind us. Given the “faith-based partnership” goals of Messieurs. Bush and Gore, separation is a cumbersome notion to be circumvented or, at worst, an annoyance to be tolerated. Buzz phrases like “school choice,” “the sanctity of life” or “working with the faith community” have an almost reverential tone now in the public discourse. Who needs separation?

In other words, try to name the last candidate you remember who unabashedly, with no qualification, no hesitation, no equivocation, openly proclaimed I support the separation of church and state... Any takers?

monthly special In the form of a modest proposal, I suggest that atheists, skeptics, and anyone concerned about the fate of our Establishment Clause demand that all candidates for an office of public trust take the pledge. I refer, of course, to a promise to the voters that said candidate will not campaign in a house of worship. There have already been serious questions raised about the constitutionality and propriety of using churches as voting stations, and most election boards require that any religious establishment serving such a purpose be stripped of any symbols or messages which convey a partisan endorsement.

We should ask that this same relationship exist between churches (and mosques, and temples) and any candidate for public office.

I know, it’s a daunting task. Toward the goal of weaning candidates away from this lamentable practice of seeking to identity themselves, their party and their partisan political message with a sectarian ideology, I propose that candidates “work the steps” -- similar to those employed at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings -- so that, they too, can take the pledge.
  1. I admit that I am currently powerless in trying to resist the opportunity to swath my political career in the mantle of religious sanctity, thus making honesty and clear thinking an unmanageable task.
  2. I have come to believe in a Power greater than my own partisan message -- the Constitution of the United States -- and that recognizing its wisdom can help to restore our nation to sanity.
  3. I have made a decision to conduct my campaign within the framework of this Constitution, adhering to the Establishment Clause.
  4. I am making a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, admitting those occasions when I have, in the fashion of a self-righteous demagogue, called upon “god” and religion in the pursuit of votes.
  5. I acknowledge these faults publicly, before the body politic.
  6. I am ready to act in a fashion which conforms to the intent of the Constitution, and, specifically, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
  7. I ask forgiveness from voters who have been deceived by my demagoguery in appealing to base, sectarian instincts.
  8. I make a list of those opponents for office I smeared and attempted to cast as moral misfits because of my “I am holier than thou” campaign sloganeering.
  9. I offer my apologies to those I harmed, demonized, excluded from the public process due to my expedient embrace of sectarian religion as part of my campaign.
  10. I continue to make such inventory, and acknowledge when I find myself “slipping” into the unfortunate habit of masking my political agenda with the veneer of religion.
  11. I have sought, through studious reading of the Constitution and review of case law, to better understand the seriousness and importance of the separation of church and state in the creation and preservation of a free and tolerant society.
  12. Having had a moral awakening as the result of these steps, I will try to carry this message to others who abuse the public trust, to refrain from campaigning in churches and further using the mantle of religion to further my political career.
It’s hard, I know. A candidate who “swears off” the intoxicating rewards of nuzzling up to religious leaders for their political imprimatur likely faces a tough time at the ballot box. It has to be done, though.

Any takers?

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