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Plenty of religious bigotry at Republican, Democratic conventions

A delegate in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders

A delegate in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders wears a hat with campaign memorabilia for the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia. Credit: Getty Images / Aaron P. Bernstein

WikiLeaks’ release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails not only confirms that party staffers tried to undermine Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid but also reveals a disturbing religious bias.

On May 5, for example, DNC officials, including chief financial officer Brad Marshall, plotted to conspire to throw the Kentucky and West Virginia primaries to Hillary Clinton by claiming the Vermont senator is an atheist.

For the record, Sanders has said he is proud of his Jewish heritage but does not consider himself terribly religious. The same is true of many Christians. What’s more, the U.S. Constitution insists there be no religious test for public office.

Meanwhile, in the Republican primaries, several candidates tried to stir up racial and religious paranoia.

Some argued that Muslim-Americans should be targeted by the government for special surveillance, regardless of constitutional protections against it. Former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, whose Seventh-day Adventist Church has long upheld religious freedom, joined now-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States, a statement the terror groups are using as a recruitment tool.

Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, properly labeled Trump’s proposal “offensive and unconstitutional” in December but apparently not so offensive that he will not run with him.

The madness did not end with the primaries, though.

While auditioning to be Trump’s running mate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said Muslims who support sharia law should be deported. Sharia is a code of conduct, with instructions for honoring God in your daily life, such as how to invest money ethically (like Methodists, they are urged to avoid casinos and distilleries) and dietary restrictions (halal, which resemble the kosher or kashrut rules of Judaism). Saying Muslims are welcome to stay in this country only if they disavow sharia, would be like asking Sen. Tim Kaine — Clinton’s running mate — to repudiate the Pope, or Pence to reject the Ten Commandments.

And at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week, former soap opera actor Antonio Sabato Jr. claimed that President Barack Obama, who worships at an Episcopal church, is a Muslim, as if that were worse than being, say, a fake Presbyterian. Carson equated Clinton with Lucifer. A delegate repeatedly chanted “No Islam” as Pakistani-American Sajid Tarar led the GOP Convention in prayer “for a strong America, for a safe America.”

A component of Obama’s winning coalitions in 2008 and 2012 is that he appealed to Americans who are unaffiliated with a congregation, religious seekers, and those somewhat disaffected from their faith community.

Clinton, a Methodist, and Kaine, a Roman Catholic, are likely to appeal to moderate Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. The party needs to worry about losing Sanders supporters and those who count themselves as “none of the above.” Or losing those whose deep personal faith does not diminish their respect for those who do not share their beliefs.

After WikiLeaks released the hacked emails, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to resign as party chair for the good of the party and the good of the nation. So do DNC staff who did not remain neutral in the primaries as required and anyone who tried to use religion to discredit Sanders.

Any politician who attacks others because of their religion or lack of same is simply un-American. Any candidate who refuses to denounce bigotry does not deserve our vote.

Thomas W. Goodhue is a recently retired United Methodist minister who is completing a book on how to get along with our neighbors in a multifaith, multicultural world.


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