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Religious Freedom   
Frequently Asked Questions About Religion and Politics
What is ADL’s position on the topic of religion and election campaigns?
ADL is opposed to the solicitation of support on the basis of religion, race, or ethnic background. In addition, ADL is opposed to appeals to religious, racial, or ethnic bias in political campaigns.

ADL believes that voters should be encouraged to make their decisions based upon their assessment of the qualifications, integrity and political positions of candidates.  Appealing to voters along religious lines can be divisive, and contrary to the American ideal of including all Americans in the political process, regardless of whether they are in a religious minority or ascribe to no faith tradition.

Does ADL prefer that candidates not be religious?
No.  ADL expects that many candidates for public office will be religious and ADL anticipates that these candidates will, from time to time, express their religious beliefs – and how these beliefs shape their worldview and policy positions.  Candidates should not be discouraged from seeking office because their convictions and positions are influenced by their religious faith, nor should they be expected to hide their religious views from the electorate.

Freedom of religion is one of our nation’s most cherished liberties, and safeguarding that freedom is one of ADL’s highest priorities.  ADL supports and respects the right of any candidate for public office to believe and to worship as he or she chooses.  Candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters and commenting about their own religious perspectives.  At the same time, however, we believe there is a point at which the emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours.

Where does ADL draw that line?
It is, of course, impossible to state exactly when a candidate’s religious speech crosses the line from commenting on his/her own religious perspective to making an appeal to voters based upon religion.  Determining the threshold is not an exact science, nor does it need to be.  Candidates should exercise good judgment and be sensitive to the fact that the American electorate is politically and religiously diverse. 

Why does ADL care if a candidate or public official engages in discussions that are overly religious?
Excessive religious discourse in public risks alienating some of the American people. While many Americans do feel comfortable with such speech, ADL is troubled when people are made to feel as if they do not have a place in our political or electoral process.  The United States is made up of many different types of people from different backgrounds and different faiths -- including individuals who do not believe in any God -- and none of our citizens should be treated as outcasts made to feel outside of the electoral or political process.

In addition to alienation, ADL is concerned about the impact of such excessive religious speech on freedom of religion.  Religion-based appeals to voters are often made with promises to promote policies and programs that promote one religion over another or promise a closer intermingling of government and religion.  Among ADL’s core beliefs is strict adherence to the separation of church and state embodied in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Separation, ADL believes, preserves religious freedom and is essential to the continued flourishing of religious practice and belief in America.

What advice does ADL give to candidates?

We urge all candidates to keep in mind that public profession of religious beliefs should not be a central part of their political campaign.  Anyone who legitimately aspires to public office must be prepared to set an example and to be a leader for all Americans, of all faiths or of no faiths.

Faith is a deeply personal matter, and consequently a candidate’s excessive public profession of a specific faith tradition during an election campaign – even if faith has helped shape the candidate’s public policy positions on a wide range of matters – can raise concerns about politicizing religion and can also run the risk of alienating or disenfranchising those constituents who do not share the expressed religious view.

What does ADL feel about churches and synagogues getting involved in campaigns?

As tax-exempt religious institutions, houses of worship are prohibited from any direct or indirect participation or intervention in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.  This wise restriction has enabled religious institutions to flourish in this country, free from government interference or politicization.

As a 501c3 tax-exempt organization, the Anti-Defamation League does not intervene in campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for office.
Related Articles

Letter to Presidential Candidates: Religion in Politics

ADL Reiterates Concern About Role Of Religion In The Presidential Campaign (12/6/07)

Religion in the Campaign: A Troubling New Precedent
(ADL op-ed, 12/10/07)

ADL Calls on Presidential Candidates to Keep Emphasis on Religion Out of Campaign (10/16/07)

ADL Urges Sen. McCain to Withdraw Statements Describing U.S. as a 'Christian Nation' (10/1/07)

 

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