In the United States, separation of church and state has gone by the wayside. It’s impossible to separate a presidential candidate’s religious worship from his or her morals, values or beliefs. Religion has shaped the lives of many people and their opinions. This brings an important question to the forefront: What role should religion play in the selection of our 44th president?

People’s religions and practices are a reflection of their characters. They demonstrate what kind of president a person might be, what kind of bills he or she might veto or sign. In addition, the president’s cabinet and the way he or she runs the White House may be determined by religion.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have been endorsed by controversial religious leaders. There have also been other religious controversies that have surrounded each of these candidates. These are crucial matters that Americans, as voters, need to be cognizant of when making their choice for president.

McCain has been endorsed by evangelical leader John Hagee. Hagee is a supporter of Zionism and Israel, and he created the group Christians United for Israel. His backing for Israel relates to the fulfillment of biblical prophecy as foretold in the Book of Revelation. He believes that the end of times is nearing and Jesus Christ will be returning to Earth. That fact is important because the second coming of Jesus cannot happen without Israel being a sovereign nation. Hagee’s main reason for supporting McCain is that he believes he will not back down from the War in Iraq and that he will support Israel – events that Hagee views as critical to the Rapture.

Many people have also found issue with the fact that McCain has been divorced and remarried. In addition, former candidate Rudy Giuliani has been divorced twice. Evangelical Christians have a strong desire to protect the sanctity of marriage, and the high divorce rates of these GOP candidates give some a sense of uneasiness.

Obama has been endorsed by Louis Farrakhan, acting leader of the Nation of Islam, but has also denounced his praise. It would be damaging for anyone running for president to have ties to any form of Islam in the post-September 11 climate we live in. Obama also differs with some of Farrakhan’s views, which have included anti-Semitic comments in the past.

Despite the importance of religion in politics and the presidency, religion has become too prominent in the scope of matters. The focus should be on the person and less on his or her religious beliefs. Some of the views that are espoused by our presidential candidates alienate important parties, such as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and people of other faiths. There is another 16.1 percent of Americans that are not affiliated with a religious denomination. We need to tone down the religiously tinged political rhetoric and return to the separation of church and state that the founders of the United States like Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues intended.

Levy is a member ofthe class of 2008.

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