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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Politics and religion

YES, we know all about separation of church and state. But religion will definitely play a part in determining the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. That's evident from what the Democratic candidates said at a recent forum on faith.

The event didn't bring forth any fire and brimstone language from Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York or Barack Obama of Illinois, or former Sen. John Edwards. But it provided a glimpse into what faith means in the lives of the Democrats who want to lead the nation.

That may not be welcome news to those who think a politician's faith should be irrelevant to the process. But look how much conservative religious groups had to do with George Bush's victory in 2004. The mastermind behind that victory, Karl Rove, capitalized on the importance of religion in many conservatives' lives, and successfully used religion to drive a wedge between many voters and the Democrats. Democratic nominee John Kerry played into Mr. Rove's hands by rarely discussing his Catholic faith.

This time, the candidates' poignant comments were at least in part meant to put to rest the notion that Democrats have no religion. Their remarks were made at a forum sponsored by a religious group called Sojourners/Call to Renewal, which addresses progressive social issues.

When asked whether God was on the side of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senator Obama smartly referred to President Lincoln, whom members of both parties think was the greatest of all. The senator said Lincoln held that even in wars for just causes, nations must be careful to avoid acting unjustly. Senator Clinton said her faith helped sustain her during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Mr. Edwards told how he returned to his faith after his teenage son was killed in an auto accident.

The forum showed that politicians of every ideological stripe can have strong religious convictions. That includes GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon whose credentials have been challenged by conservative Christians. And remember, millions of faithful, church-going African-Americans are among the most reliable Democratic voters.

Politicians may need religion, but it would be a mistake to assume that the deity is a member of any political party. Religion is still a powerful force in the lives of millions, and when candidates forget that, they do so at their political peril.

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