Of Faith and Freedom
Presidential contenders speak out on religious liberty. [Main Story]
wo of the leading contenders in the 2008 U.S. presidential sweepstakes have made their views on religious liberty clear—and before audiences of Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders.
In April of 2005, nearly two years before announcing her candidacy, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., made the case for both freedom of religion and the right not to choose a religion, at a dinner sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association, Liberty magazine, and the North American Religious Liberty Association—three religious freedom outreaches sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“Religious liberty is one of the most important issues on the world’s agenda today,” she said at the event in the Senate Caucus Room. “Those of us who are people of faith are so aware of what that means in our lives that it is sometimes a challenge for us to understand our obligations to make space for nonbelievers.”
Calling the Seventh-day Adventist Church a “vital force” for religious freedom at home and abroad, Clinton lauded the involvement of the church, its 100-year-old Liberty magazine, and the International Religious Liberty Association, which the church organized in 1893. IRLA became a nonsectarian organization in 1946.
Noting the 1 million Seventh-day Adventists in the United States, Clinton said, “You understand very well the importance of religious freedom and freedom of conscience.”
One year later, again at the annual religious liberty dinner, it was another U.S. Senator, Republican John McCain of Arizona, who lauded Adventists for their role in promoting faith and freedom on a global scale.
“It’s no surprise that the many Seventh-day Adventists here tonight seek the freedom to practice their faith—after all, Adventists have often faced serious discrimination around the world,” McCain said in May 2006. “What is remarkable, what is truly impressive about your work, is that you seek freedom not just for people of your faith but also for those of all other religions. Your work on behalf of religious freedom and human rights is vital, it is transforming, and it is inspiring. And for it, the world owes you a deep debt of gratitude.”
Noting some recent global progress on the issue of freedom of religion, McCain added that there was still some distance to go: “Every time a Chinese Catholic is jailed, or an Afghan convert is arrested, or a Hindu is killed in Kashmir, or a Tibetan Buddhist oppressed, it is not simply a tragedy. It is a call for action, one worthy of this country founded on the principle that every person, possessing inalienable rights, deserves to be free,” he said.
At the same time, it’s not only Adventist groups that hear from presidential candidates on religious liberty issues. In 2006 Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., outlined his approach in an address to a conference sponsored by Call to Renewal, an organization headed by Sojourners magazine founder Jim Wallis. In that speech, Obama suggested it was religious conservatives who needed instruction on separationism.
“For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment,” he said. “It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forebearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religion, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.”
“Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater,” Obama added. “Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
And while omitting nonbelievers from his December 6, 2007, speech in College Station, Texas, on “Faith in America,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, made clear his views on religious liberty.
America’s founding fathers, Romney said, “discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams’ words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our Constitution,’ [Adams] said, ‘was made for a moral and religious people.’”
Romney added, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”
Recalling an earlier era, Romney noted, “Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”
Romney also made a declaration of support for religious freedom.
“You can be certain of this,” he said. “Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: We do not insist on a single strain of religion—rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.”
—Mark A. Kellner, with reporting from Adventist News Network and public sources.