Religion Impacts Voters

Before deciding which candidates will get their vote, those getting ready to cast a ballot first have to think about what social and policy issues matter most to them.

For some, the decision may be a mixture of both, but for others, one issue may dominate the decision making. No matter how many issues are important to a person, deciding can be a daunting task, but for many, they have guidance.

This guidance is their religion.

It is not surprising that religion plays a factor in how voters cast their ballots in a country where 56 percent say religion is very important in their lives, according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll that questioned 25,000 people in 2007. The poll also found that 92 percent of Americans believe in God and 78.4 percent say they are Christians.

How much of an influence religion plays in each person’s vote varies from person to person. Even those who say they do not believe in God may still hold a religious belief, said Bob Sather, campus minister for the Navigators, an interdenominational group dedicated to “helping people navigate spiritually, to know Christ and to make Him known as they look to Him and His Word to chart their lives,” according to the Navigators Web site.

“I think everybody has a religious belief, even those who say there is no God,” Sather said.

In a religiously diverse country, it is important to keep religion as an organization separate from government, said Dr. Bette Evans, Creighton professor of political science and international relations. The constitutional separation of church and state is one thing, but it is impossible to separate religion and politics, which is different, she said.

“One of the ways we keep this from getting contentious is to keep it as much as possible separate from politics,” she said.

If the United States endorsed a particular religion, Evans said, this would raise the stakes over what people would argue about. This is why she believes separation of church and state is crucial in America.

“Because we are so diverse, that is just asking for trouble,” she said. “We look at all the countries in the world who have had horrible bloodshed over religious wars and are having it right now and you have to look at the U.S. and say ‘how did we get so lucky?’ ”

But completely separating religion from politics is impossible because beliefs are so tangled with other factors, Evans said.

“People don’t keep their brains in separate places. You don’t have a religious spot in your brain and a politics spot in your brain. People who say religion and politics should be separated are asking something impossible,” Evans said. “Our religious beliefs affect how we approach all issues and they are so tangled up together that it’s really hard to separate.”

Abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, the war in Iraq and the economy are just some of the many issues on voters mind as they decide between presidential, congressional and local candidates.

All issues cross the line between religion and politics, said Damian Baalmann, Arts & Sciences senior and president of Creighton’s Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization focused on faith, service, and fraternity.

“All issues seem to encompass both realms. I can’t think of anything that doesn’t cross the line,” he said.

Religion holds several different roles for citizens in the world of politics.

It is a way people identify themselves and participate politically based on these identities, Evans said. Religion helps guide people’s morals and views on issues and how a society should be organized.

Voting as a Christian, Sather said he would like to vote for a leader consistent with his values.

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