Enough Already

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Jacques Berlinerblau, the Washington Post‘s house church-state separation absolutist, sticks his tongue in his cheek to advocate a constitutional amendment that begins, “The right of presidential aspirants to discuss religion, invoke sacred texts, or mention God on the campaign trail is hereby repealed.” The amendment also proposes that, “Whenever a religious figure endorses any candidate for the presidency that candidate must reject aforesaid endorsement.” Oh, and Congress would be empowered to exile the faith-based endorser to France. The idea behind this modest proposal is, of course, that the country is best off with no religious talk by candidates, no such endorsements by religious figures. I ‘m less than persuaded by the argument.
Berlinerblau thinks the endorsements threaten the country’s “interreligious tranquility” and do the candidates no practical good, while the obligation to engage in a certain amount of God talk deprives the country of a lot of good candidates (i.e. those who can’t do it). I’m no fan of clerical endorsements, but there’s little evidence that the Wrights, Hagees, and Parsleys have in any way threatened relations among the nation’s religious groups. Such controversy as has attached to their controversial remarks almost inevitably results in reaffirmations of religious comity elsewhere in the system. That’s how the system works. Whether candidates are hurt or helped more by clerical endorsements is an empirical question that cannot be resolved merely by looking at the most controversial. For a generation, Republican presidential aspirants have sought the approbation of conservative evangelical pastors. Does Berlinerblau know something they don’t?
Talking religion does come more easily to some candidates than others–remember Howard Dean and John Kerry during the 2004 election cycle? But John McCain has managed to capture his party’s nomination without indulging in it to any appreciable degree. If there are would-be American presidents out there who have been afraid to throw their hats into the ring pending the arrival of Berlinerblau’s secularist millennium, I’d like to know who they are.