The Sacramento Bee
October 4, 2003
Church and State
How much do voters care about the religious beliefs of candidates?
Bee Staff Writer
Edition: METRO FINAL
Bill Simon, speaking at a press conference last week, mentioned that he, Richard Riordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger all belong to the same church.
"It must be in the holy water," Simon joked.
They all attend St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica. (It's not just a Republican church - actor Martin Sheen is also a member.) Simon, who is active in the church, says Schwarzenegger regularly attends Mass with his family.
"I always see them there at the 9:30 a.m. children's Mass," said Simon in a phone interview later. (Simon has endorsed Schwarzenegger's candidacy.)
Tuesday's recall election is only days away, but little has been made of the religious beliefs of the governor and those who want to replace him. That's probably because, despite all the talk about politics and religion, religious affiliation does not influence voters at the polls, according to various
In the most recent, nearly six in 10 people said their religious beliefs rarely affect their voting decisions, according to a survey conducted in July by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
"It probably matters even less in California, where people are less likely to belong to organized religion," said John Green, a specialist on religion and
politics at the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron (Ohio) and author of "The Diminishing Divide: Religion's Changing Role in American Politics."
"That's why it's known among scholars as the anti-Bible belt."
Californians also are more open to alternative religions. There was little public reaction to reports that Arianna Huffington, who has since withdrawn
from the race, was interested in New Age spirituality.
Simon, a gubernatorial candidate in the 2002 race, said a candidate's religious beliefs shouldn't matter.
"I think people's religious beliefs are private ... unless the candidate makes it an issue," Simon said.
What are important to voters are common values and beliefs, according to researchers. For instance, a conservative Catholic is more likely to vote for a candidate who shares similar beliefs on certain issues, such as abortion or the death penalty.
"There is a lot of divisiveness within the faith traditions ... that's why you see unusual alliances," said Donald E. Miller, executive director for the
Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California. "For example, conservative Jews may have a lot more in common politically with evangelicals than liberal Jews."
And the religious right may be a factor in this election, say Miller and Green.
"If the race tightens, it may be a problem for Schwarzenegger because a lot of religious conservatives prefer (Tom) McClintock," Green said. "They share his social beliefs, even if they are a different religion."
Still, in the end, what matters most, experts say, is that candidates
practice what they preach.
"That's where candidates get in trouble," Miller said.
Another interesting point in this election is that Gov. Gray Davis and two of the three leading candidates are Catholic - Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Schwarzenegger. (State Sen. McClintock is Baptist.)
It underscores how much the perception of Catholicism has changed in the last 40 years. During the 1960 election, for example, there was so much speculation about his faith that John F. Kennedy needed to explain that if elected president, he would not take orders from the pope.
"Catholicism has become much more mainstream ... in the same way that Mormons are becoming more mainstream now," Miller said.
Some people are, of course, angry at what they see as hypocrisy and expect politicians to live their faith.
Joseph Gigante is one of them.
Gigante is media director for the American Life League, a conservative Catholic group that opposes abortion. Over the past several weeks, Gigante has listened to the three leading Catholics in the recall proudly proclaim their pro-choice
"If they publicly trade on being members of the Catholic faith, then they should adhere to the faith," Gigante said in a recent interview.
Last week, the ALL and a coalition of pro-life groups placed ads in California newspapers (including The Bee) denouncing the three men. The ads featured photos of Schwarzenegger and Davis receiving Holy Communion at their respective
Gigante believes that if more Catholics know about the politicians' views, the more likely they are to reject them at the voting booth.
But the ads may backfire. The majority of American Catholics support choice under certain circumstances, said William D'Antonio, a professor at Catholic University of America who studies Catholics and politics. "It's been that way
for years," he said.
D'Antonio is also troubled that a group of Catholics would take photos of others receiving the Eucharist.
"I'm shocked that they would do this," D'Antonio said. "They should tend to their own sins. I think they need to be reminded who Jesus broke bread with."
Simon, a conservative Catholic, also thinks the ads are inappropriate.
"I don't believe anybody has the right to judge another person. That judgment is to be made by our Lord."
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The recall and religion
Here is a brief look at the religious affiliations of the governor and the three front-runners in the recall election:
Church: Good Shepherd Parish in Elk Grove is his neighborhood parish, but he is not a member.
What others say: Last month, the Rev. Brendan McKeefry of Good Shepherd announced to his congregation that he was going to run for governor but didn't want to run against a parishioner. Said McKeefry: "I was joking. To my knowledge, he (Bustamante) is not a member here ... but he would certainly be welcome."
Church: Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills
What others say: "He's a very private person. He's a very faithful Catholic. He and his wife come to Mass very faithfully when they are in town," said the Rev. Colin Ryan, pastor of Good Shepherd, in an interview with Faith, a Catholic
newspaper in January 2002.
Religion: North American Baptist
Church: First Baptist Church of Elk Grove
What he says: "Religion thus formed the foundation of American liberty: the 'self-evident' truth that the rights of all people are endowed not by the
state, but by their creator," McClintock wrote in a 1997 essay for the Christian Science Monitor.
Church: St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, where the 1944 movie "Going My Way" was filmed.
What he says: "I'm Catholic. Yes, absolutely. I grew up as a Catholic. And my mother was the one that was the spiritual leader in our house, so she took us - it was not even an option. ... She was very adamant about that and also the school, it was a Catholic school. So we were taught catechism and, you know, the Bible and prayers," Schwarzenegger said in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News last month.
- Compiled by Bee staff writer Jennifer Garza and Bee researcher Becky Boyd.
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The Bee's Jennifer Garza can be reached at (916) 321-1133 or at jgarza@sacbee.