Will The Kerry Campaign Implode Over Religion?

Support for a U.S. Supreme Court case seeking to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance forced the Democrat’s new director for religious outreach support to resign after only 13 days on the job.

The Washington Times reports:

"I feel it is no longer possible for me to do my job effectively," Mrs. Peterson said in a statement released yesterday by the DNC.

"I do not want my support of this case to serve as a distraction or ammunition for Republicans and their allies," she said. "I continue to believe, as do leading faith leaders across this country, that John Kerry should be the next president of the United States and that John Kerry's values of opportunity, family and responsibility are America's values."

Demonstrating how out of touch the DNC is when it comes to religious voters, the hiring of Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson was announced on July 23, by Terry McAuliffe as a Democratic effort to wrest religious voters away from President Bush.

Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson is the second Democratic official to resign under pressure from the New York-based Catholic League:

The Kerry campaign's hiring of Mara Vanderslice as a religious adviser also blew up in June after the Catholic League cited her past association with radical political groups. The campaign has since silenced Miss Vanderslice.

[. . .]

"I don't think the Democrats or the Kerry campaign quite know what to do with religion," said John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron who does extensive polling on religion and politics. "There is a certain fear on the part of the Democrats that if they talk too much about religion, they will alienate a portion of their base.

The Catholic League's statement about Rev. Petereson's resignation contains this:

Why are Kerry and the DNC imploding on religion? Because too many of the elites running the show are devout secularists who put a premium on freedom from religion. Their idea of religious liberty is banning nativity scenes on public property. Their idea of diversity is censoring ‘under God’ from the Pledge.

A perception that the Kerry campaign, or the Democratic party, favor freedom from religion, not freedom of religion, could be enough to turn a very close presidential election. This is especially so if that perception is held and spread by a "Catholic" organization such as the Catholic League.

The nation's 66 million Catholics represent about 23 percent of American voters. When Kennedy was elected in 1960, he received 75 percent of the Catholic vote and Nixon got 75 percent of the protestant vote. In 2000 the Catholic voters were split 49 to 47 percent between Gore and Bush.

According to Reuters, when Kennedy ran there was a concern whether he was too Catholic. Today Kerry must show that he is Catholic enough. Kerry faces controversy over whether he should be allowed receive communion because of his pro-choice position. That issue has even caused Kerry to be charged with heresy. Kerry's stance on gay marriage also causes him difficulty with church going voters.

Kerry can't count on a huge percentage of Catholic support just because he is Catholic. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the religious split in American politics today is not between Catholics and Protestants, but between those "who attend services frequently and those who go seldom or not at all." President Bush holds an advantage among Catholics who attend regularly and Kerry is favored by those who only attend regularly. The Los Angeles Times reports that regular churchgoers broke for Bush over Al Gore by a 2-to-1 ratio in the 2000 election.

President Bush is campaigning hard for the catholic vote. He has had three audiences with the Pope, and last week spoke at the Knights of Columbus convention.

The Kerry campaign is also trying to win over the church going voters. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Kerry campaign has an ambitious effort to reach people of faith:

Through values-laden language, grass-roots organizing and Kerry's increased discussion of his faith, the Democrats are trying to show that the party's presidential ticket reflects religious principles, pointing to their platform on healthcare, poverty and the environment.

The Kerry campaign — which has three staff members assigned as liaisons to various denominations — is aiming to create "People of Faith for Kerry" groups in every state.

[. . .]

To that end, Kerry's campaign has started a "friend-to-friend" writing campaign among religious backers. And it is marketing bumper stickers, signs and T-shirts with messages such as "Christians for Kerry" and "Muslims for Kerry." Last month, the campaign began running a Spanish-language television commercial emphasizing Kerry's Catholic faith.

Some of these efforts are too blatant and are inconsistent with Kerry's statement in his acceptance speech that he doesn't wear his faith on his sleeve. Kerry needs to spend less time discussing his religiosity. Voters of faith are looking for leaders who share their values and vote for their issues.

The Kerry campaign can't afford to alienate Catholic or religious service attending voters. The campaign can't afford to appear to support taking "under God" out of the pledge of allegiance nor can it afford to appear to be in favor of Freedom from religion as suggested by the Catholic League.

Posted by Dan Spencer at August 8, 2004 4:35 PM