The Edwards campaign inadvertently touched the third rail of politics last week; religion In a well publicized incident, Edwards hired two bloggers for his campaign that had written inflammatory remarks (gasp!) in their personal blogs, all this before their association with Edwards. William Donohue, president of the conservative religious group Catholic League, demanded their firing while calling them “anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots.” I’ll leave it to you whether Donohue is a credible judge of religious bigotry, but before you decide you may want to go here  for his views on “Jews in Hollywood” or “Muslims.” Edwards, for his part, did the right thing and defended his bloggers, although too tepidly for my taste.
In a year when everyone is asking if a Mormon or a woman or an African-American can be elected president, there are two areas where American voters have near universal agreement: the next president won’t be an atheist or gay. A Gallup poll  from September 2006 addressed that very question. Woman (yes…61%), African-American (yes…58%), Mormon (Mitt, are you listening?…29%), Atheist (definitely not…14%), Gay (are you kidding me?…7%). Now I don’t know Ellen’s religious beliefs  , but something tells me we won’t be seeing a Madame President DeGeneres anytime soon. It is also notable, that in this poll at least, Republicans were more tolerant than Democrats for all demographic groups except women (an HRC effect I presume).
Putting aside for a moment the plight of gays in America (much less their electability), the prejudice against atheists I find interesting. One of my favorite statistics involves data on the elite scientists in the United States and Britain (the National Academy in the US and the Royal Academy in the UK). About 90-95% of the scientists identify themselves as non-believers. If one of the criteria we should use to elect our leaders is the ability to alleviate human suffering, than I’ll vote Salk and Sabin over Falwell and Robertson every time. Having written that sentence I guess I can forget forever my dream of working on Sen. Brownback’s presidential campaign  . Sometimes life requires hard choices.
Is any of this important? Who knows. In presidential match-ups, I tend to think the perception of charisma (esp. on TV) counts for more than gender, race, creed, or policy papers. At any rate, we should try to keep religiosity out of our elections. To that end, shouldn’t the News&Observer stop listing “religious affiliation” in their voter guide?
UPDATE: One of the Edwards bloggers resigned on Monday stating that she felt her employment was putting the Edwards campaign at risk.