How Will Religion Influence The 2016 Presidential Election?

By | August 30, 2019


POLLS FIND THAT MOST AMERICANS WANT A PRESIDENT
WITH STRONG RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. BUT TO WHAT DEGREE DOES RELIGION PLAY A ROLE
IN HOW VOTERS VOTE, THE KEY ISSUES AND TALKING POINTS IN A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND WHO
WINS THE TITLE OF THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES? IN WHAT’S BEING CALLED “ONE OF THE MOST
POLARIZING ELECTION YEARS” – WE’RE EXAMINING HOW RELIGION COULD INFLUENCE THIS YEAR’S
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. JOINING ME FOR THIS CONVERSATION IS RABBI
PETER STEIN – SENIOR RABBI AT TEMPLE B’RITH KODESH, THE REVEREND IMANI OLEAR – SENIOR
PASTOR AT REFORMATION LUTHERAN CHURCH, SAREER FAZILI – PRESIDENT OF THE ISLAMIC CENTER OF
ROCHESTER, AND FATHER BRIAN COOL – DIRECTOR OF THE CATHOLIC NEWMAN COMMUNITY AT THE UNIVERSITY
OF ROCHESTER AND CHAIR OF THE DIOCESE OF ROCHESTER’S PUBLIC POLICY COMMITTEE. WELCOME AND WELCOME BACK TO IMANI AND SAREER
it’s good to have you here (all) Thank you (Helene) Our constitution clearly states in
the first amendment this divide that’s supposed to exist between religious live and functions
of government. Thomas Jefferson actually wrote, “Believing
with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes
account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government
reach actions only, and not opinions..” However the separation of church and state
might not be as clean as Jefferson envisioned so elements of religious themes that constantly
show up in politics especially during presidential elections. I want to get your why, or rather, how this
happens? Why does religion often play a prominent role
in elections? I’m going to give this to you first, Sareer. (Fazili) Well I think people are looking to
grasp on to something. They want people elected who are like them
and the whole issue of morality whether you’re conservative or a liberal, they want to see
people that they can identify or associate with. As a result, I think the politicions sometimes,
they play off on that whether they appeal to the pro-choice or pro-life groups or whathaveyou,
there is a need that we see in America to associate with something or someone and we
want that person or those people to represent us because they’re like us. (Stein) So I actually would think about it
in a little bit of the opposite way which is not so much that people are looking for
our elected leaders to have religious values but our own religious values. So when I’m looking at candidates, when
members of my community are looking at candidates for office, it’s my religious values and
the sacred teachings of my religion that will influence the choices that I make when I cast
a vote. (Helene) Should religion have a place in politics? I know that’s a big question, Ronald Lindsay,
president and CEO for the Center for Inquiry said, has argued that, “for democratic discourse
to be successful the participant in that discussion must be able to understand, evaluate and debate
reasons that others offer for their views, and it’s not possible to do that if religious
doctrine is offered as a justification for public policy.” What’s your take on that? (Cool) I think that’s probably not representing
well what religious people believe about their faith’s traditions. I think that most people, like you suggested,
want their values represented in the public square. A lot of people, almost 80% of American’s
believe in a God, have a faith, tradition or identify with a particular religious tradition
those values form what we believe, what we hope for, what we ascribe to, what we desire
for: healthy community. (Olear) But the idea.. what ends up happening
is that we impose what we believe God is in our political figures. Any time that God becomes anything opposite
from me, opposite of one that speaks to those that are held captive, those that are oppressed,
those that do not have voice or are vulnerable, then that becomes something counter what religion
is supposed to be about. And that’s.. when we start seeing that in
people, that’s what makes me nervous, I guess. (Stein) For sure I think the idea of vulnerability
is really central in my religious understanding that we’re in this world to respond to those
who are vulnerable, to work for the cause of justice and equality and peace, and when
I look at elected leaders I don’t particularly care whether an elected leader is religious
or not, what I care is that they’re taking actions that are helping those that are vulnerable
that are working to end racism and violence and suffering in our world. I’m not looking whether they have a religious
perspective, or not, but that what they’re doing lines up with my religious perspective
since I am a religious leader. (Fazili) We’ve seen in the Muslim community,
Khizr Khan took on an extremely prominent role at the democratic national convention. Not because he was preaching Islam, no, rather
he was using certain examples that of his most precious asset his son that had passed
in Iraq to try to teach at least one of the candidates that the idea of religion is not
something that should be bandied and bated about in a presidential election as a hot
topic issue. They were using, and in fact I would say,
abusing the Islamic community and it took someone who gave a very bold statement saying,
‘Forget everything, just look at your constitution, and see what it is you as a president are
supposed to uphold before you start taking shots or blaming others given the circumstances.” I think in that circumstance and what we’ve
seen in some of the rhetoric over the past year, people are using religion to try to
score points. Conversely, our communities are trying to
use religion to heal, to direct, to guide and to bring people together. The use of religion in what we’re seeing
of this year’s election, unfortunately for some of the candidates is incredibly opposite,
and for that you’re seeing some of the unfortunate circumstances whether it’s targeted killings
down south, whether it’s imams being murdered on the streets of New York just a few days
ago, those are some of the things we’re seeing as a result of some of the anti-religious,
or I would even say, anti-Islamic rhetoric. (Helene) I would have to imagine that all
of you are going to have different perspectives on this but in what ways, looking at the landscape
right now with the presidential election, how are you seeing, and you just pointed to
one aspect, how are you seeing religion in particular impacting, or influencing, this
election cycle? Imani you’re smiling.. (Olear) I don’t what to take that one first (Laughter) (Olear) Unfortunately I think that happens
many times within this election season has been that people are using their personal
viewpoints versus religion and what religion is trying to teach to get their message across. That’s not good or bad, I’m not judging
it. But I do think that what ends up happening
is that what you’re hearing is dissatisfaction with their personal situation versus what
is really going on and being taught from the pews. (Cool) And at the same time, all of our traditions
represent a wealth of information, a wealth of experiences, a wealth of teaching that
is oversimplified in the media, in conversation whether it be individuals or across the media
platforms that we have. That really just does not do religion or religious
teaching justice. I think that’s fair for all of us. (All) yes (Stein) I would see something that is a little
bit more pointed that is happening in this election and that is, there’s been injected
into this election cycle, into the conversation, an incredible amount of anti-Muslim sentiment,
an incredible amount of anti-Semitism, those unfortunately become what I think is really
a tragic part of the conversation in this election and now we can’t escape it. We have to address it we have to demonstrate
with our words and our actions that that’s not an acceptable part of the dialog that
should take place when considering who should be the elected leader of our country. (Helene) How do you respond to that as leaders
as voices of very religious backgrounds in this community? How do you address something like that considering
things such as Donald Trump saying there should be a total and complete shutdown of Muslims
entering the united states a candidate can say that about any religious group so what
kind of obligation do you feel to counter act it, to address it? (Fazili) What we’ve done is merely informed
our congregants and we’re very apolitical as with all congregations I’m sure there
are people from all spectrums but all we told them was, just make an informed decision. We don’t practice politics in the Islamic
center, we never have and we will not. Everybody gets a voice everyone gets a patient
hearing then you’re going to go into the ballot box and you’re going to go into the
booth and you’re going to decide. And we’ve told people, just think. Whether it’s from one side or the other,
you have to educate yourself. You have to see who’s good for you and your
family; you have to see who’s good for your community and who’s good for your country
because the idea that’s being propagated is that a Muslim and being an American that
they are somehow not congruent. The fact of the matter is that as a Muslim
and as an American I cannot imagine any other things being as common to me as those two. It is the most consistent thing for me because
my religion teaches certain things, my country teaches certain things and I cannot think
that there is any conflict between the two and I think that’s the same for everybody. It’s a matter of what is best for you and
your teachings and the things that we see in our teachings guide us to be educated to
make an intelligent choice, and like we say, “Leave the rest to God.” (Cool) Archbishop Chaput down in Philadelphia
wrote a personal essay in the diocese newspaper inviting people to the same kind of thing
in the Catholic community the US catholic Conference to bishops releases a document
called “Forming Consciences” for faithful citizenship every election cycle, and interesting
I thought was the archbishop also identified that he finds this election cycle both depressing
and liberating and I found that quite interesting. Depressing, of course I think we all know
that, we can all feel that in terms of the rhetoric, in terms of the policy, in terms
of the attitudes that are out there; it’s just polarizing everybody. But liberating I actually found very insightful
and I think a topic for this discussion her is to bring these people together beyond the
tribalism that exists with parties. So calling people to a greater good saying,
let’s set aside party ideologies we need to talk on a really human level with one another
that begins with respect and an understanding that we’re all in this together, we’re
all seeking a common good, we’re trying to build a better society beginning with the
poor, the neglected, the forgotten, and one another as brothers and sisters in the community. We all benefit from that. He ends with a wonderful reflection that calls
us all to a deeper silence to set aside all the noise, and that silence is where all the
prayer is born. I thought it was an excellent article actually. We’re seeing, the Muslim community is still
by-in-large is still heavily an immigrant community. And I’m seeing articles now of whether they
were refugees or merely people who were coming having just green cards and coming through
the system they are embracing citizenship. And why? Because they’re waking up to the fact that
finally they have a voice that matters that will be heard. One ballot, one vote, is their mantra now. And they see that whoever is good for me and
my community I can exercise my franchise, I have the ability to influence something
that historically I didn’t have the chance. That is the bedrock of America. You’re ability to come, put in the time,
go through the system, accept the citizenship and then the next day you are as good as somebody
who’s been here for fifty years and you get to have your voice heard. Those are the things that we’re seeing in
our communities because people realize if they don’t, nobody’s going to hear them. (Helene) One thing I wanted to pose to all
of you, I wanted to get your thoughts, perspectives on this, how is it that religion can play
a key role, and certain topics that often get brought up in presidential elections such
as abortion and the treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people, but not on other things
so much. Things such as gun policy, terrorism, immigration,
those last three all rank at the top of the list when it comes to the main voting issues
for this election year. Why do you think some things make the cut
so to speak but not other things so much in terms of religion playing a role? (Stein) I think it may be more a matter of
the visibility of certain issues rather than activity actually taking place within the
religious community and the Jewish community in particular there’s been a major gun violence
initiative taking place over the last several months, last year or so which is very definitely
playing into the election cycle into the debates and discussions it’s just not quite as visible
as some of the other issues that you posed, the pro-choice movement for example. (Cool) I often times think too though in an
American mind set and in a political arena, we think because something’s been voted
on therefore this issue is settled. The issue continues to percolate with people
for a variety of different reasons and I think that the issues that you mentioned are continuing
to be unsettled for some people in the catholic community in particular where we value life
in all forms and trying to maintain the dignity of life, that’s just going to be a value
that we maintain and hold and promote at every turn and corner. Does it mean that we don’t respect one another,
does it that we castigate one another, or demean other people? I don’t think so. I think the other issues are… I would probably argue are not as politically…or
excuse me, in the media, I don’t want to blame the media but I think the media short
changes on those other issues whether it be gun control or immigration, certainly those
issues are very important. WE HAVE TO CLOSE FOR NOW – GREAT CONVERSATION,
GREAT GUESTS – THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME TODAY AND FOR WEIGHING IN ON THIS TOPIC. SET YOUR D-V-R FOR FRONTLINE’S ACCLAIMED
ELECTION SERIES “THE CHOICE 2016” WHICH RETURNS ON SEPTEMBER 27TH FOR A 2-HOUR PROGRAM
GOING BEYOND THE HEADLINES TO EXAMINE THE FORMATIVE MOMENTS IN THE LIVES OF PRESIDENTIAL
CANDIDATES HILLARY CLINTON AND DONALD TRUMP. THAT’S TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27TH AT 9-P-M
RIGHT HERE ON W-X-X-I T-V

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