Now that the political conventions are over and Campaign 2000 is starting in earnest, it's a good time to step back and take a look at the role religion can play in this election year.
It would be naive to expect that religion and politics will never mix. Most candidates, like most other people, have personal religious beliefs. They will occasionally talk about those beliefs, or they may be asked questions about their faith by reporters. No one would seriously suggest that this type of dialogue violates the separation of church and state.
But politicians do need to realize there is a line they should not cross. The United States is a religiously diverse, multi-faith society where perhaps as many as 2,000 different religions and faith groupings are represented. Under our system of government, adherents of all of these faiths are equal under the law. No politician should suggest otherwise, and they all need to recognize that they can't use the machinery of government to impose their personal theological beliefs on others.
That's the course politicians should take. What about houses of worship? What steps can they take to ensure that the role religion plays in politics this year is a healthy one?
Plenty. For starters, all religious leaders should swear off attacking any candidate on the basis of his or her religious views. Religious leaders should also avoid declaring any candidate to be anointed by God to serve. For most believers, the idea that God hands down political endorsements is perverse.
And of course religious leaders should refrain from distributing material in church that is partisan or that endorses or attacks any candidate. (Yes, this includes Christian Coalition voter guides.) Such activity is illegal under federal tax law, but, more importantly, it is also unethical. Religious leaders should not …