Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Does Obama’s Religion Matter?

A recent Pew Research poll found that 18% of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, 34% believe he is a Christian and 43% simply don’t know what the President’s religion is.

The poll’s focus – and that of its media examiners – has been the increase in the number of Americans that now view Obama as a Muslim. Pew also compared the president’s job approval numbers with respect to the religion question: unsurprisingly, respondents with a favorable view of Obama’s job performance are more likely to believe he is a Christian, while those that disapprove are more likely to believe he is a Muslim.

But the questions Pew declined to ask were “Does President Obama’s religion matter to you?” and , “Why are so many people unsure of what religion the president practices”? Back in the 1960’s there was much controversy over the fact that John F. Kennedy was a Catholic. People were concerned that Kennedy would have a conflict of interest between his faith and his obligations to all Americans. There were those that thought Kennedy would have to consult with the Pope over decisions that might conflict with Roman Catholic doctrine. Ultimately, Kennedy was elected as this nation’s first Catholic president and few would argue that his religion – while it must have played a role in his decision making process – did not cause any upheaval in America.

We have had presidents from 11 different religious dominations and 2 with no church affiliation (though they believed in God). What religion each president practiced had little to do with how they governed, what political party they represented, or how the American people as a whole viewed them or their performance in office.

So why do so many Americans today seem confused s to Barack Obama’s religion? Some point to the fact that Obama’s father (who he barely knew) was a Muslim, who later became an atheist. Others point to the fact that Obama attended an Islamic school while he lived in Indonesia (something that being a child he did not choose) as evidence that he is a Muslim. Still others see his constant apologies and “outreach” to the Muslim world as reasons to believe he is a follower of the Quran.

But what about the fact that the president attended Reverend Wright’s church in Chicago for 20 years of his adult life? Steeped in Black Liberation Theology, that church is where President Obama claims he found Jesus Christ. Unlike his childhood experience in the Muslim school, spending years in Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church was the deliberate choice of a grown adult, as is his friendship with Father Phleger- a Catholic priest who also is a believer in Liberation Theology.. Much of the rhetoric Obama uses in his speeches – which many have labeled as socialist or Marxist -- can be traced to Black Liberation Theology. More significantly for our nation, the same is also true for several of the policies he has put forth since taking office.

So does it even matter what religion Barack Obama does or does not practice? Do the American people even have the right to know what the religious beliefs of their elected representatives – even the president – are? Is there anything more personal and private than a person’s faith? We elect a president to represent all of the people, no matter their faith- or lack of faith- in a deity or higher power.

The First Amendment says in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As long as President Obama does not violate the First Amendment for instance, by attempting to make Sharia Law a part of our system, or establish any religion as an official government sanctioned faith, is his religion pertinent? If his beliefs become a part of his public policy decisions does that give the American people the right to demand answers about the president’s faith?

This article is not intended to draw any conclusions as to the relevance of President Obama’s religious beliefs, whether they are pertinent, or the right of the American people to know what they are. Rather, the intent is to step back from the issue and let people examine their points of view on the matter from a broader perspective. Each of us must consider three very important questions. First: Is the president’s religious affiliation any of our business? Second: Are the president’s personal religious beliefs any of our business, or are they simply a distraction from much more critical issues? Third: Are Barack Obama’s religious beliefs becoming part of his administration’s public policy?

Steven Rosenblum is the Republican nominee for Florida State House, District 89