When the founding fathers began the construction of the United States they found religious freedom to be of such importance that they made it one of their first orders of business. Now, religious freedom has taken center stage in 2015 politics. While both sides have their standard platforms for how their respective parties will toe the line, Democrats and Republicans are digging in deep where the fog of this political war gets even murkier.
In recent months Hillary Clinton stood up for women with a speech at the Sixth Annual Women in the World summit in New York City. During the speech Clinton stated, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed[.]” Clinton suggested that she is very much pro-choice and that religious freedom should adapt to the women’s movement. Such remarks do not come as a major surprise from Clinton, whose party has made significant shifts in recent years to a more secularized organization without leaning on bible teachings and divine morality as much as on state-centric law.
Likewise, Republican primary contestant Donald Trump brings to the Grand Old Party a shift from the status quo with a realist’s approach to infringing on religion. In recent weeks Trump has made remarks regarding Pope Francis indicating that America has something to hold over the Vatican’s head. Ever since the Fox News GOP debate, the reality star has been plagued by his eagerness to get his way. With a simple slip of the tongue Trump exposed that his approach to Pope Francis could easily be leveraged through the extremely real threat from ISIS. Such a position begs the question of where he really stands on religious freedom and how much leverage he intends to use against the pontiff in international relations.
On the other hand, is Joe Biden getting churchy? There is a very good chance he could shake up the Democrats by getting in the race. With flamboyant remarks from Trump and Clinton, Biden is poised to win the hearts and minds of the faithful; despite eight years of the Obama Administration attempting to completely remove the Catholic Church from any sphere of influence in national politics. According to reports, Biden is expected to meet Pope Francis and attend mass with him during the Pope’s visit. Such posturing puts Biden right back in the limelight as supporting religious liberty, especially for those sharing in the Catholic faith. While the meeting with the Pope does include multiple controversial guests, the introduction of Pope Francis presents an image of Biden as one who identifies strongly as a Catholic. His demonstration of his faith in the public square contradicts the popular accusations that he may have abandoned his faith for a more liberal agenda.
Of course, there are Republican with positions aimed at protecting religious freedom. While Trump may gain a great deal of attention with his massive crowd drawing appeal, he isn’t an entirely true representation of how Republicans view the world and those of various religious faiths. One look at former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee would spill the beans that the Republican platform centered on religious freedom is very much alive and kicking. The GOP pool includes New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who has historically been a bit withdrawn from religious dialog. Christie, a cradle Catholic, has in many cases contradicted traditional Catholic teaching in matters of the state. According to reports, in 2011, regarding homosexuality, Christie stated that while his religion says it is a sin he has always believed that people are born with a predisposition to be homosexual and that such behavior is not sinful. On the other hand, Christie vetoed legislation in New Jersey in an attempt to prevent same-sex marriage in the state. Likewise, Christie has not shied away from criticism of Pope Francis. Appearing on CNN, Christie stated that Pope Francis is not infallible in matters of politics. By making such a statement, Christie delivered a sound message that seemingly asserts his view of separation of church and state while discussing the role Pope Francis is playing in the political situation between the United States and Cuba. Such positions from the Republican candidate may bring a moderate mix of appeal from secularists and religious alike. Overall, with such remarks from Christie, it could be possible that the GOP is bringing in a new wave of politics aimed at gaining the attention from those who don’t want religion pushed on them any more than they want it taken away.
While Clinton has remarked on her approach to religion as one in need of significant change and Trump has expressed religion as merely a subject to the power of the state, both refer to religion as a goal seated in a statist approach. Both candidates view religion as something less than sacred and secondary to the public interest. The contrast that is brought to the elections in 2016 is shockingly shaken up with Biden on the center line appealing to Catholics with a highly publicized tour with Pope Francis.
The preconceived notions of many over the last eight years may be about to change. The way we see religious freedom, those who represent religious freedom and which party has the ability to manipulate such freedoms may could be shaken up in a game of political Yahtzee. If we don’t watch carefully, sleight of hand may have the dice out in front of us before we even know they were being shaken.