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
“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.
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...”
... 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...
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
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
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
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- I have made a decision to conduct my campaign within the
framework of this Constitution, adhering to the Establishment
- 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.
- I acknowledge these faults publicly, before the body politic.
- 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.
- I ask forgiveness from voters who have been deceived by
my demagoguery in appealing to base, sectarian instincts.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
© 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.