Some non-Christians feel left out of election
By Ed Stoddard Sun Feb 3, 8:48 AM ET
DALLAS (Reuters) - In a U.S. election campaign where
presidential candidates from both major parties have
talked openly about their Christian faith, some
non-Christians feel shut out or turned off.
Despite the constitutional separation of church and
state, religion plays a big and sometimes decisive
role in politics in America, where levels of belief
and regular worship are far higher than those in
"Non-Christians are concerned that they will be
excluded from the process," said Ahmed Rehab, a
spokesman with the Council on American-Islamic
"I welcome faith values if they inspire candidates to
do good things. But I worry if it is used as a litmus
test to include someone in political participation."
About 75 percent of the U.S. population, long a
melting pot of immigrants from around the world,
identifies itself as Christian, according to several
That is a huge but divergent source of potential votes
for Republican and Democratic candidates in their long
contest for the nomination to run for the White House
in the November election.
U.S. politicians are not shy of talking about their
religion and regularly appear in church.
In recent decades, part of the American political
drama has been scripted by the "religious right" --
mostly white evangelical Protestants united by strong
opposition to abortion and gay marriage who have been
a key base of support for the Republican Party.
Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee, who scooped up
strong evangelical support but whose campaign is
fading ahead of next Tuesday's nominating contests
across the country, is a Baptist preacher who peppers
his speeches with Biblical allusions.
Mitt Romney is a Mormon who was moved to address
questions about his faith in a speech in December.
John McCain has long sought to smooth relations after
including leaders of the religious right among those
he called "agents of intolerance" during his failed
presidential bid in 2000.
The leading Democratic presidential contenders have
also been open and candid about their faith.
That faith, and that of the Republican candidates, is
Christian, although candidates have also spoken about
the need for religious tolerance.
A false rumor that has circulated on the Internet
about Democratic candidate Barack Obama, whose father
was Kenyan, is that he is Muslim who has lied about
his religion. The rumor appears to illustrate the
importance some voters attach to a candidate being
LEAVE RELIGION OUT, SOME SAY
Estimates of the numbers of non-Christians in America
vary. Some put the percentage of atheists, agnostics
or "unaffiliated" at between 15 and 18 percent of the
population of 300 million.
Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of other religions
make up fewer than 10 percent of the population.
Standing in a Hindu temple in a Dallas suburb before
statues of his religion's deities, Tejas Karve says he
understands why the candidates stress their commitment
to Christianity. But it does leave him with a sense of
"I think it's geared more towards Christians because
that's the majority. It's incomprehensible for them
(Americans) to have a candidate who's not Christian,"
the 26-year-old pilot, who immigrated from India eight
years ago, told Reuters.
"I do believe they leave (non-Christians) out to a
Political professions of faith leave some unmoved.
"Why is that relevant? Who cares? The great issue is
where do we stand on Medicare and Social Security and
immigration ... Why inject religiosity into that?"
asked Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Council for Secular
"Are we (secular humanists and atheists) marginalized?
No. Are we turned off? Yes!"
Atheists and agnostics have long been targets of the
religious right who see moral decay in secularization.
Some critics say those without a religion were singled
out in the speech by Romney in which he sought to ease
concerns among Republican evangelicals about his
He said "freedom requires religion" -- implying that
it could not exist without it -- and criticized those
who "seek to remove from the public domain any
acknowledgment of God ... It is as if they are intent
on establishing a new religion in America -- the
religion of secularism. They are wrong."
A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 63
percent of those polled said they would be "less
likely" to support a presidential candidate who did
not believe in God.
But those who say they are "unaffiliated" or atheist
are very keen to cast their ballots. Pew data shows
that 82 percent of them are very or somewhat likely to
vote. At 90 percent, evangelicals are the only group
more likely to vote.
(Editing by Frances Kerry)
(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit
Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http://blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)