At CNN's Democratic Town Hall on Tuesday night, an audience member asked presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders about his faith. Sanders, who identifies as a secular Jew, responded with this:
"It's very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry or veterans who are sleeping on the street, but I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can't understand." Sanders said. "That's my religion. That's what I believe in."
His statement was a refreshing contrast from any president I, or other millennials grew up with, namely George W. Bush, who once claimed he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan because he was on a "mission from God." So it's no surprise his message sent shockwaves, both good and bad, to people on the left and right following along.
It's fine to have faith, and perhaps the crowning achievement of our Founding Fathers (namely James Madison), was the First Amendment — freedom of religion, whether that means practicing one or none at all. Sanders exemplified this best when he broke away from the mold. But it's time we stop so heavily weighing religion as a prerequisite for presidency in the first place. If not, we run the risk of allowing certain religious views to inform policy.
In fact, it's already happening.
For decades, politicians disclosing their faith is an expected right of passage almost as normal as saying "under God," but those on the right face an intensified pressure to tout their religious credentials. While not all conservatives are religious, appealing to evangelical Christians has become the norm, with 78% of those polled from that particular group voting republican.
In this election season alone, all the GOP candidates identify as religious and as Christian (though to varying degrees of devoutness), and all of them claim to be fervently anti-abortion, even though their draconian views actively harm women in and out of their faith — research shows that 70% of all women who've had the procedure identify as Christians.
“Every candidate in a Republican primary says they’re pro-life," GOP presidential hopeful and prominent anti-choicer Ted Cruz said at a rally in Iowa. "That’s what you say in a Republican primary, regardless of the facts."
And this is a huge problem.
If republicans continue to pander to the religious right, despite what's truly fair or the majority opinion, the right's brand of evangelical zealotry threatens to undue the progress many have fought tirelessly to achieve. Marco Rubio, for example, has said that if he's elected, he plans to overturn protections for LGBT Americans and make same-sex marriage illegal again.
"I don't think the current Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate marriage," Rubio said. "What is wrong is that the Supreme Court has found this hidden constitutional right that 200 years of jurisprudence had not discovered and basically overturned the will of the voters in Florida, where over 60 percent passed a constitutional amendment that defined marriage in the state constitution as the union of one man and one woman."
Obviously, not all people of faith hold views that conflict with social progress. Both Hillary Clinton, who identifies as a Christian Methodist, and Bernie Sanders, a secular Jew, have repeatedly expressed their support of LGBT rights, reproductive freedom and #BlackLivesMatter, among other issues.
But the bottom line is that politicians don't need religion to inform their sense of right and wrong. No one does. A person's ethos doesn't have to be sculpted by their allegiance to any faith, and it seems like young people are realizing that now more than ever. In fact, only about four in 10 Millennials say that religion is very important in their lives. Instead, our generation wants policies that mean something to them. And faith, yes, not in a religious sense, but in an establishment that will serve them.
A good president should be able to fulfill those needs first, because Sanders was right. At the core of every religion, is making this world a better place. If they want to practice Christianity, atheism, or Islam while doing it, so be it.