© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Conventions Bring Sharper Faith Appeals From Both Parties

Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz speaks from Orlando, Fla., during the third night of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. Holtz questioned Democratic candidate Joe Biden's Catholic faith.
Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP
Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz speaks from Orlando, Fla., during the third night of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. Holtz questioned Democratic candidate Joe Biden's Catholic faith.

The 2020 presidential election is likely once again to feature religion as a campaign issue, if the Republican and Democratic conventions are any indication.

Speakers at the Republican National Convention this week touted the religious credentials of their own candidates, but they were equally determined to question the faith of their opponents, with Joe Biden their main target.

Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz told the convention that the Democratic candidate is a Catholic "in name only," citing his support for abortion rights.

As a practicing Catholic, Biden has long had reservations about abortion rights, but after launching his presidential campaign, he modified his views.

In fact, Biden's position is one shared by many Catholics. Despite the church's strong opposition to abortion, a 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that 48% of U.S. Catholics say abortion should be legal in "all or most cases," while 47% said it should be illegal.

In an interview with MSNBC, Biden called Holtz's comments "preposterous" and said his private beliefs relative to Catholic doctrine were "different than my imposing that doctrine on every other person in the world."

The president of the University of Notre Dame distanced the school from Holtz on Friday, saying in a statement that "we Catholics should remind ourselves that while we may judge the objective moral quality of another's actions, we must never question the sincerity of another's faith."

Attacks on Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, even came during an opening prayer. Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Spero on Wednesday invoked America's "Judeo-Christian tradition" and asked God that it be upheld, "especially now, when to our horror, it is being challenged."

President Trump, Spero said, "has stood up fearlessly against those who are corrupting the term social justice. ... May God protect him."

In his acceptance speech, Trump joined in the criticism of his opponents' faith commitments.

"During the Democrat Convention," he said, "the words 'Under God' were removed from the Pledge of Allegiance – not once, but twice. The fact is, this is where they are coming from."

Trump failed to note that the instances to which he referred were in caucus meetings at the side of the convention and that during the convention, the pledge was recited several times with the phrase "Under God" included.

In a speech in Cleveland this month, Trump claimed that Biden's agenda would "hurt the Bible, hurt God. He's against God," Trump said.

In their convention last week, the Democrats appeared more focused on defending their record on religion than in challenging that of their opponents.

Pete Buttigieg, the former Democratic candidate, came closest to questioning the Trump-Pence record. Buttigieg, who is married to a man, has criticized the administration's invocation of religious freedom arguments in support of institutions that do not recognize a right to same-sex marriage. In his convention speech, he asked, "Will America be a place where faith is about healing and not exclusion?"

The comments were not specifically aimed at Trump or Vice President Pence, though they recalled a remark Buttigieg made about Trump's religious beliefs in an interview with USA Today in spring 2019.

"I'm reluctant to comment on another person's faith," Buttigieg said, "but I would say it is hard to look at this president's actions and believe that they're the actions of somebody who believes in God."

On Thursday, Biden likewise signaled a willingness to go on the offensive when it comes to religion and politics. Responding to the attacks on his Catholic faith, he noted that they were made on behalf of a president "who hardly ever darkens the door of a church."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.