The United States was founded as a secular nation. Its design included a clear separation of church and state, protecting the freedom of religion without using religion to dictate government. Article VI of the Constitution even states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Yes. Seriously. Though that may be hard to believe if you watch any modern day election coverage.
That's particularly true of 2016's Presidential hopefuls. The GOP has turned Christian pandering into a key election strategy, and the media has made a point of speculating about Hillary Clinton's devotion to the Methodist church and on whether Bernie Sanders is Jewish in a cultural or religious sense.
Of all the candidates, Bernie Sanders is the only one who describes himself as "not particularly religious." He has said that he is spiritual and has referenced his "belief in God." Yet when Jimmy Kimmel directly asked if he believes in God, Bernie's answer was rather vague, saying in part:
"I am who I am," Sanders said. "And what I believe in and what my spirituality is about, is that we're all in this together. That I think it is not a good thing to believe that as human beings we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people."Whatever his personal beliefs, if elected, Bernie would be our first modern non-Christian president. (You know, excluding those founding fathers and early presidents who were actually deist.)
Does that mean atheists should automatically jump on the Bernie bandwagon? Should a willingness to be labeled "not particularly religious" be enough to make every atheist feel the Bern?
Not necessarily. (Though it is encouraging!)
The thing is, atheists are actually a pretty diverse group. There are conservative Republican atheists, liberal Democrat atheists, and everything in between. Choosing a candidate (for president or any other office) has to come down to more than religion. Hopefully, it's a well-informed choice based on the issues that each candidate supports.
Many churches have their own election guides that dissect the candidates by issues and tell their followers which politicians should, or shouldn't, get their votes. (Like this one.) So where is the atheist election guide that breaks this all down for us? I don't think we actually need one.
Religious affiliation is going to be covered in most election voting guides, and it isn't hard to see which politicians are able to separate their personal beliefs from their political platform. Especially when some candidates are blatantly calling for laws based on their Christian faith. (Like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, etc.)
Atheists tend to be more interested in forming their own opinions based on all the available facts. If you want to understand where the candidates stand on the issues, try these options:
1. Visit the candidates' websites, watch the debates and listen to what they have to say for themselves.
2. Check out several different 2016 election guides. Get started with Ballotpedia, InsideGov, OnTheIssues, and Endgadget (science & tech based).
3. Take the in-depth ISideWith quiz to see which candidate best matches your position on major and minor election issues. (It's also a great way to question where you stand and find issues that you may not have considered.)
4. Talk to other voters. Not debate--or berate--but talk. Listen to what they have to say, then investigate their claims on your own.
Your vote is important. It matters. Take the time to decide how you can use your vote most effectively.
If you want to do something more to support atheist and secular citizens, simply make yourself visible. Let your local politicians know that you exist in their district. Get involved with your state chapter of the Secular Coalition For America. But, above all else, vote.