Religious Leaders Challenge Presidential Candidates to Keep the Faith Off the Campaign Trail

Launch National Campaign to Put First Freedom First

MANCHESTER, NH – On the eve of the Democratic Presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire, nationally-recognized religious leaders, political and legal experts joined together to answer the question: When religious rhetoric rides the campaign trail, is America's First Freedom in jeopardy? 

The event also marked the launch of First Freedom First, a nationwide, interfaith public education campaign to safeguard religious liberty in America. As part of the campaign, thousands of Americans are expected to sign the First Freedom First online petition to preserve the American value of religious liberty – the right of individuals to worship – or not.

In advance of the impending Presidential candidates debate, Reverend Dr. C.Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Gregory G.Lebel, Assistant Professor of Political Management at George Washington University; The Reverend Olivia Holmes, Minister of the Keene Unitarian Universalist Church; and Richard A. Hesse, Emeritus Professor of Law, Franklin Pierce Law Center, tackled the difficult questions of propriety when dealing with religion on the campaign trail and in elected office.  The panelists raised concerns about candidates on both sides of the aisle using religion to appeal to voters and guide policy.

Reverend Dr. Gaddy stated, "Candidates on both sides of the aisle are using religion in radically new ways within their political operations. Candidates are forced to defend the practices and beliefs of their faith, describe how they pray and how regularly they attend services, and other questions that have no bearing over a candidate's vision for leading this country." 

The distinguished panel of speakers underscored the importance of protecting religious freedom from academic, political and religious perspectives and safeguarding the brite lines between religion and government. The panelists all expressed concern about the slippery slope of using faith to get elected or using faith to set policy.

Gaddy added, "We are in New Hampshire today because this is center stage in the crisis over our nation's first freedom. Though the Presidential election is over 400 days away, candidates are already in a knock-down, drag-out fight, and religion is often an unholy weapon in that fight. Candidates must remember that they are running for 'Commander-in-Chief' and not 'Pastor-in-Chief."

Often referred to as the "First Freedom," the Constitutional-guarantee of religious liberty is the foundation for the separation of Church and State.

First Freedom First is a joint project of The Interfaith AllianceFoundation and Americans United for Separation of Church & State