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Cervantes: Congress and Christ

BY CHRISTOPHER CERVANTES | SEPTEMBER 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told that the United States is a practitioner of the separation of church and state.

My response: baloney.

When school children say the pledge of allegiance they say, “one nation under God.” When witnesses testify in court, they swear on a Bible to tell the truth. Our currency even goes as far as to read, “in God we trust.” Whether we realize it or not, we Americans have incorporated religion into many aspects of our everyday life.

I really shouldn’t be surprised then at Congress’s latest controversy.

James Woods is an Arizona Democrat running for the seat of his state’s 5th Congressional District. His major handicap is not that he is running against incumbent congressman Matt Salmon, or that that Arizona is a primarily Republican stronghold, or even that he’s blind. His Achilles heel is his religion, or rather, lack there of. As of now, Woods is the first openly atheist candidate in the history of our country to run for a seat in Congress.

To be frank, this does not deserve to be a political controversy. From what I have been able to gather, all of the outrage I have heard is simply borne without reason. According to a poll done by CNN, 20 percent of the American people have no religious affiliation. Because we as a people believe in equal representation for our citizens, it makes sense that we should have at least one representative of that group, even if it is in the minority. This does not stop accusations of immorality from being slung at Woods like a freshly baked political mud pie.

Woods came under fire after his unusual response to an anti-abortion group’s request for support: He sent it a box of condoms, branded with the “James Woods” campaign logo. The message there is clear enough to see. His humanist positions on other issues are certainly different from the conservative Christian approach.

For a nation that believes in the separation of church and state, a lot of people are sure being critical of Woods’s campaign. The question is, why?

The thing is, we’ve seen this all before. We saw it when John F. Kennedy first began on the road to the Oval Office. Many thought that a Catholic president would dictate his policies to fit around that of the pope and his doctrine. His brief term showed us that the worry was just that, only a worry.

And again it plays out whenever we see the first of any minority group run for public office. There is always some outside force, perhaps only imaginary, which people believe will drive the candidate in the wrong direction.

This is when the answer becomes very clear. It’s not that the American people are vindictively against the specific groups, but rather, they are afraid of what something different will bring.

Whether it be the desegregation of schools or a non-Protestant in the White House, there will always be people who will try to preserve the tradition and familiarity that they have grown accustomed to. It is the ultimate civilian defense. Stop the change to stop potential disaster.

I have a feeling that Woods has a tough, yet winnable road ahead of him. Our nation can, and has, survived change. Maybe the first atheist congressman can be the next one.


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