Can America willingly elect an Atheist President?

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Jonathan White | Staff Writer

Of all the controversy surrounding the presidential election, one common theme that has every candidate talking is religion. The candidates are declaring their religious background every chance they get to make sure that the American people know where they stand. One candidate in particular, Bernie Sanders, who is culturally Jewish has openly stated that he’s “not particularly religious.” Some describe Sanders as agnostic although he has also stated that he does believe in God.

Even though America is a “melting pot” it does not yet have the willpower to elect a president who seems to display atheistic beliefs, willingly at least.

Although the American public has not knowingly elected a President that outright claims atheism, two former presidents (Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln) claimed to not have formal religious affiliations. Back in 2014, a Pew Research study said that “Americans are somewhat more open to the idea of an atheist President.”

These statistics below showed “Views of Presidential Traits”:

(Pew Research study)

(Pew Research study)

Constitutionally speaking, it should not matter what religious beliefs the President has, as long as he or she was voted for by the public. According to the Library of Congress, in order to be eligible for the presidency, it is required that the person be 35 years of age and be a resident within the United States for at least fourteen years.

Nevertheless, Americans are far from willing to take the leap to vote for an atheist as president. Looking back at our last presidential election, Mitt Romney was the frontrunner for the Republican candidates. The media took every opportunity to talk about Romney being Mormon. To this day, journalists are still investigating on whether or not being Mormon cost him the presidency.

Americans were also skeptical of President Obama’s religion when rumors circulated that he was Muslim and that he was not born in American. Even today, there are people that believe the president is Muslim and dislike him because of it.

The government has tried to show that it keeps “the church and state” separate, but in most courthouses across the country and on every dollar bill it says “In God we trust.”  In elementary schools, children are taught to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends on “One nation under God.” So much for seperation. Essentially, America is just not ready for religious deviation from its President. Atheism has such a distinct stereotype attached to the name that it would be difficult for any candidate to get enough votes.

As much as America tries to separate religion from politics, people want to know what politicians believe in. Voters use it as way to scale out a politician’s morals as well as distinguish how relatable the politician is to the average voter.

In 2007, “Newsweek” took a poll asking people religiously inclined people if they would vote for a politician who was an atheist. Only 30 percent of the people who were surveyed said yes. It was mostly Jewish people who were not offended by the idea.

Although many are skeptical of politicians with no religious background, some are not. Students like Aaron Woodley, a sophomore biochemistry major from Waxhaw, North Carolina said, “Personally, I would [vote for an atheist president] but it would have to come down to how I see his views and if I like them or not.” We should pay more attention to the views of the politician and not what his or her religious views are.

We do not question our Hindu doctors or Catholic lawyers, but an atheist politician is a problem. The perception of atheist politicians will not change for a very long time, but as Americans we should heed the words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and judge these individuals, not by religious beliefs, but simply by the content of their character.

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