Free to choose: religious affiliation not determinative for 2012 endorsements

In terms of the Republican presidential race, the first two weeks of 2012 illustrate that influential politicos are increasingly willing to endorse a candidate based more on policy positions and political realities than religious affiliation.

Saturday the Deseret News reported, “More than 100 influential evangelical conservatives announced (today) that they want Rick Santorum to be the next president of the United States.” In the third and final round of their non-binding balloting, 114 evangelical leaders cast votes. Santorum and Newt Gingrich — both Catholics — received 85 and 29 votes, respectively. No votes went to vocal evangelical and GOP candidate Gov. Rick Perry.

On Jan. 7 the Mitt Romney campaign revealed that five former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican are endorsing Romney. Catholic News Service reports “the former ambassadors, all of whom are Catholics,” said via press release, “We believe it is important to support the one candidate who is best qualified by virtue of experience, intelligence and integrity. … That candidate is Mitt Romney.”

Although perhaps not as nationally newsworthy as the endorsements mentioned above, Rep. Ron Paul announced this week a three-person “Latter-day Saints for Ron Paul” national coalition. All three of the panelists are Mormons; while two of them were already Ron Paul staffers, the third is Lehi resident and Deseret News contributor Connor Boyack — an author and recent guest on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show on Fox News.

In October the Washington Post described Paul’s religious affiliation: “He’s not a member, but officials at First Baptist Church of Lake Jackson, Texas, say Paul attends services whenever he’s in town. He left the Episcopalian church in which he was raised in part over its stance on abortion rights.”

Ken Starr, president of Baptist-affiliated Baylor University, penned an op-ed piece in Monday’s Washington Post exploring whether and why he could support a candidate from a denomination distinct from his own Baptist faith.

“If an unbeliever such as (Thomas) Jefferson or non-churchman like (Abraham) Lincoln can serve brilliantly as president, then America should stand — in an intolerant world characterized all too frequently by religious persecution — as a stirring example of welcoming hospitality for highly qualified men and women of good will seeking the nation’s highest office,” Starr wrote beneath the headline “Can I vote for a Mormon?” in an article that didn’t mention any current candidate by name. “Life experience, personal qualities and policy views are the pivotal points to guide Americans as they go to the polls in 2012.”

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