Religion and politics go hand in hand in American life. The relationship between the government and religion were of such importance and concern that our founders thought it necessary to write the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses into the First Amendment. But while the relationship between the government as a whole and religious entities has been defined for over two centuries, the American public still demands expressions of faith from elected officials.
A recent study by the Pew Forum found that 67% of adults believe that it is important for the President to express strong religious beliefs. This number has decreased slightly since previous iterations of this study, but overall the number of respondents who believe this has remained constant. While nearly two-thirds of adults would like the President to have strong religious beliefs, only 52% of Americans say that they are completely comfortable with politicians expressing their religious beliefs. An additional 42% of adults say that they are uncomfortable when politicians discuss their religious beliefs.
Over the past decade, the Pew Forum has also found continued opposition among adults that houses of worship should not endorse candidates for office. While the number of Americans who support houses of worship endorsing or opposing candidates peaked at 29% in 2008, it has remained consistent since the question was first asked in 2002. As of July 2012, only 27% of Americans believe that houses of worship should be able to partake in candidate endorsements and 66% of adults say that they should not.
Numerous church-state separation experts have attempted to compile “rules” that allow candidates and elected officials to navigate the rocky terrain of expressing both ones groundings in a particular faith and one’s calling to public service. Rabbi Saperstein has attempted to untangle the issue of religion in the election with his “Five Rules for Faith and Politics in 2012”. The relationship between religion and politics and the legalities of it are sometimes contentious and often confusing, as evidenced by the Pew study. The full study conducted by the Pew Forum can be found here.