Religious Issues Play Important Role In Presidential Election Decisions

( [email protected] ) Oct 11, 2004 07:02 PM EDT

In the final weeks before the presidential election, President Bush and Senator Kerry have been active on the campaign road to strengthen their bases and gain the support of still yet undecided voters. Among the hot topics are issues that pertain to the Christian community, and, in what is shaping up to be a close presidential race, the voter presence of religious constituents could have a significant impact on the outcome.

A large proportion of the public has indicated their desire for a president of firm religious beliefs. The stance of each candidate on current issues, including abortion, marriage, and embryonic stem cell research, may be deciding factors on who gains the vote. While President Bush is vocal in his religious faith, Senator Kerry is more reserved, appealing more to those who support the separation of church and state.

Because of this, a recent poll indicated that more Catholics support President Bush, while Senator Kerry fares better among Protestants. A surprising statistic, given the history of Catholic political support: late-president Kennedy received 78% of the Catholic vote in his presidential campaigns, and Catholics have shown a majority support for Democratic candidates in the last two elections. Less than fifty percent of Catholics polled even knew that Senator Kerry is a Roman Catholic.

On the issue of marriage, an interview by The New York Times last Monday recorded Mr. Kerry’s statement that “The President and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position.” While he personally believes that traditional marriage should be between a man and a woman, Mr. Kerry opposes the proposed Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, and voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996; Mr. Bush supports both measures.

In the second presidential debate on the night of October 8, in St. Louis, Missouri, two more issues were raised addressing the sanctity of life: embryonic stem cell research and abortion. Currently, successful cures and treatments have been achieved using adult and umbilical cord stem cells, but the question is whether to open up funding for embryonic stem cell research.

During his term, President Bush was the first president to allow federal funding of limited research, after consulting with clergy, ethicists, and scientists. “…[S]cience is important, but so is ethics, so is balancing life. To destroy life to save life is— it’s one of the real ethical dilemmas that we face,” he stated during the debate.

In contrast, Senator Kerry supported opening up embryonic stem cell studies, in hopes of finding a cure for debilitating diseases and physical disabilities, stating Friday night that “the president’s chosen a policy that makes it impossible for our scientists to that.” Senator Kerry promised that research would be guided by ethics, limiting studies to embryos that are frozen in fertility clinics and likely to stay frozen or be destroyed.

Prompted by a question about abortion, both candidates firmly established their sides. While both oppose partial-birth abortion, they differ in their stance on the right of women to choose. “My answer is we’re not going to spend federal taxpayers’ money on abortion,” stated President Bush. “Culture of life is really important for a country to have if it’s going to be a hospitable society.” He went on to talk about the partial birth abortion ban and Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

Senator Kerry took a different view; first, sharing his personal “respect [for] the belief about life and when it begins,” he went on to say, “But I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith…. as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation and I have to make that judgment,” showing his belief in the separation between church and state, personal and public responsibility.

For those wanting a more clear statement about his faith, Mr. Kerry has promised to make a speech regarding religion within the next month. The next three weeks will be crucial as voters reconcile these important issues with their beliefs.