FREEDOM FROM RELIGION SEEMS TO BE A POPULAR POLITICAL CRY

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Paul Sullivan’s vintage columns appear Fridays in The Valley Dispatch. He wrote this one in 1994. Sullivan’s WBZ-radio show airs Monday through Friday from 8 to midnight.

When youngsters study the history of American political campaigns, they will no doubt learn of the days when political candidates had to defend their religious beliefs as part of the rite of passages to public service.

These young historians will be taught that in 1960, the American people elected John F. Kennedy president of the United States. As the nation’s first Catholic president, Kennedy’s election proved that religion does not have to disqualify one from seeking public office.

At least that is what the history books were supposed to say. Now, courtesy of associates of GOP Senate hopefuls John Lakian and Janet Jeghelian, days of “Catholic (or pick your prejudice) need not apply” are being revisited.

Both campaigns have raised questions about fellow Republican candidate W. Mitt Romney’s role as a leader of the Mormon Church. The Mormon Church, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is a Christian denomination, whose teachings include such novel ideas as love God and love they neighbor, notions that apparently are too bizarre for Romney’s fellow senatorial challengers.

In Lakian’s case, his involvement came from a whispering campaign by political aides. In the case of Jeghelian, her campaign manager made public queries about the electability of a Mormon candidate. When the actions first came to light, editorials were written criticizing attacks on a candidate’s religion.

But the actions of these campaigns bring up a bigger issue.

Why would campaign workers think the public might reject a candidate who is religious? Have opinion polls shown that Americans are actually suspicious of people who express their religious beliefs publicly?

We never hear of campaigns raising the issue of people who don’t follow any religion. The truth is, being religious is out of style, particularly for those who seek public office.

Why? Because it’s rejected by the anti-values lobbyists, like those who favor abortion, those who oppose school prayer, radical feminists and certain members of the elite press.

The anti-religion lobby has been very successful. They have made those who seek public office repudiate or at the least remain silent about their religious beliefs. People who stand up and say they believe in the teachings of their church and oppose abortion or gay rights are belittled by the political establishment.

At the same time, anyone that wants to march in a gay-rights parade or throw condoms at priests is treated as a folk hero by most of the press.

While it would be easy to repudiate the handlers of Lakian and Jeghelian, who were caught trying to take the low road, that would not address the bigger issue.

Why do political handlers believe the electorate wants politicians without religious convictions?

To comment on this story, e-mail Paul Sullivan at psullivan@lowellsun.com.