One of the cardinal principles underlying the Constitution of the U.S. is the separation of church and state. We apparently need to be reminded of this fact at this moment when many loud voices are calling on the American electorate to judge candidates for the election of 2008 based on their religious beliefs.
This is not the first time that religious factors have been a force in American elections. When the Irish began to flow into the U.S. at the time of the potato famine in Ireland, there was a powerful anti-Irish movement in the U.S. led by Protestants who were convinced that the Irish immigration was part of a plot by the pope to turn the U.S. government over to the Catholic church.
When John Kennedy ran for president he made it clear that his religious affiliation would not be a factor in shaping public policy.
In the early years of the American nation one of the spokesmen for separation of church and state was Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to his nephew Peter Carr, he wrote: “Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blind faith.”
In his notes on the state of Virginia, Jefferson wrote: “The legitimate power of government extend to such acts injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”