President Thomas Jefferson once said, “Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.”

According to a Pew Research Center study released last week, one in four Americans likely agree with our Founding Father. Thirty-eight percent of Americans say there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders–more than any number since Pew began asking this question a decade ago. Slightly more than half of respondents believe that churches should stay out of politics.

Race, political affiliation and religion proved to have some impact on whether respondents saw too much or too little religion in politics. For instance, only 14 percent of white evangelicals see too much God talk in the politics, compared with 44 percent of white mainline Christians, 40 percent of white Catholics and 30 percent of black Protestants. Democrats were more likely to believe houses of worship should stay out of politics.

I want national leaders who are, among other things, smart, curious, tough, compassionate, savvy in domestic and international affairs, economically astute, believers in social justice and fighting for the marginalized. I want my leaders to be moral, too. A candidate’s public displays of religiosity tell me nothing about any of these things.

It seems to me that we require political candidates to perform religiosity. They wear their professed faiths like billboards, stumping at churches, shaking hands with high-profile preachers and giving shout outs to God. Call me cynical, while I don’t doubt most politicians have some sort of spiritual belief, I suspect most of this religious grandstanding is for show. Believing that “my leader must worship my God” encourages the pandering and hypocrisy we say we deplore in government. I yearn for a political arena where public servants can have their private spirituality or none at all and be judged by what they do, rather than who or what they pray to.

What do you think? Is there too much religion in politics or not enough?

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