Iowa Insight: Don't Rashly Mix Religion And Politics, Hawkeye Politicians Urge

With the Iowa caucuses just a week a way, two Hawkeye State leaders have tackled the increasingly problematic mixing of religion and politics in the presidential race.

Writing in the Des Moines Register, former Democratic lieutenant governor Sally Pederson and former Republican lieutenant governor Joy Corning challenged the misuse of faith by political candidates.

"We both are political people," Pederson and Corning wrote. "And, we both are religious people.

"We don't agree on political parties," they continued. "We don't agree on the best presidential candidates. We don't agree on the same solutions to the challenges facing our country. But we strongly agree on this: The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and it also guarantees freedom from religion. We agree that when religion and government mix, both suffer."

While both women note that faith often informs Americans' values," they "strongly object to candidates of either party who try to make religion, or the form of it, or the lack of it, a qualification or disqualification for public office.

"And," continued the bipartisan duo, "we oppose the practice by many religious institutions of endorsing specific candidates -- not only a clear violation of their not-for-profit status, but also a practice that can be divisive and harmful to a community of faith. We believe this wonderful exercise in democracy that we call the Iowa caucuses is about our duties under the Constitution and not about the religious prescription of any holy book.

"As Iowans," they said, "let us remind the nation that the Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office and that the divisive use of religion to manipulate voters is unacceptable. The president-elect will take an oath to uphold the Constitution of this nation, not a religious doctrine or faith tradition. The president must serve all Americans without prejudice toward any religious or nonreligious beliefs."

Pederson and Corning, writing on behalf of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, concluded their Dec. 24 essay with an appeal.

"We call on our fellow Iowans," they said, "to show the nation that our religious and ethical beliefs inspire us to reach positive solutions to societal challenges based on our shared values as Americans. Let us not be divided by our sectarian or theological differences. Let us recognize the value in our diverse thoughts and beliefs. Let us use that diversity as a building block to strengthen our nation and world.

"We call on the presidential candidates to run for office based on their vision, their judgment and their plans to deal with the challenges and issues that confront our nation," Corning and Pederson concluded. "Do not ask us to vote for you based on your personal religious affiliation. Do not ask us to stand in judgment of your opponents' religious beliefs."

These are wise words. In an election season where several White House hopefuls have imprudently injected religion into politics and where some religious leaders have politicized their pulpits, Corning and Pederson's advice should be widely read and heeded.