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"Vote Or Veto: How Does Religion Affect Candidates And Voters?"

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

Materials Needed:

Time Needed:


Pre-lesson Activity: Get Up and Stand Out - Social Barometer

  1. Designate an end of the classroom as "agree strongly" and the other end as "disagree strongly." Indicate that the space in-between is "agree" and "disagree." The teacher can insist there is no neutral position.
  2. Posit the following question to the class: Should a religious test be mandated for political candidates? Students will not verbally express or share their views. Instead, they will walk to the part of the room that best reflects their views.
  3. Encourage students to look around, but still not speak. Pair off students from opposite ends of the barometer as much as possible for a "pair & share" conversation. Distribute the student handout [link] with questions for a brief, small group discussion. Questions include:
    • How did it make you feel to commit to a position without explaining yourself?
    • To what extent were you affected by your classmates' positions on the barometer?
    • With respect to the original question, Should a religious test be mandated for political candidates, why are you standing where you are?
    • The final question should be: Are religious tests constitutional? Why or why not?
  4. Reconvene as a class. Have students refer to this excerpt from the U.S. Constitution on their handout from the previous group discussion :

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath of Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
    U.S. Constitution, Article VI
  5. Discuss why the Framers included a prohibition on religious tests for holding public office. Encourage students to consider the religious diversity in 18th century America and in contemporary America in their responses.

Part One: Is the Country Ready to elect a ________ in 2008?

  1. Post the following information on the board:

    • In 1903 Reed Smoot, a Mormon, was selected by the Utah legislature to represent the state of Utah in the U.S. Congress. (NOTE: This process predates the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provided for direct election of senators.)
    • A Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections prevented Smoot from initially taking his Senate seat. After years of investigation the Senate voted against expelling Smoot in 1907.
    • Rasmussen Report: Survey of 1,000 Likely Voters, November 16-17, 2006

      Would you ever consider voting for a Mormon candidate in a Presidential election?
      Not Sure19%
  2. Conduct a brief class discussion on these moments of American history.

    • Ask the class to consider why Reed Smoot's appointment to the U.S. Senate was held suspect in the early 1900s. Make sure the students understand the following points:
      • Only two percent of Mormons engaged in plural marriage or polygamy in the 19th century.
      • The Mormons issued a manifesto ending the practice in 1890.
      • Contemporary bigamists profiled in the news, such as Warren Jeffs or Tom Green, are not members of the mainstream Mormon community and have been condemned by LDS for their bigamist views and practices.
    • Ask the class for possible explanations for the poll results. Make sure the students know that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is a front-runner Republican candidate for the 2008 presidential election. He is also a Mormon.
  3. Distribute copies of LDS policies on political neutrality and instruct the class to read it:

    Either as a class or in smaller groups, lead a discussion about Mormon participation in American politics.

    • Ask the students to identify LDS' position on political engagement of their institutions (their temples).
    • Ask the students to identify LDS' position on political engagement of their members.
    • Ask the students to consider the results of the Rasmussen Report. To what extent would respondents be impacted if they had read the LDS neutrality statement?

Part Two: Candidates' Candid Views on Religion

  1. Divide the class into groups of four students.

    Two group members will receive Senator Barack Obama's USA Today Op-Ed piece, "Politicians Need Not Abandon Faith." Inform students that Senator Obama is a Democratic presidential candidate for the 2008 election.

    Two group members will receive (then) Senator John F. Kennedy's
    "Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association." Inform students that Senator Kennedy was the Democratic presidential candidate for the 1960 election.

  2. Instruct students to read their respective articles. While reading, students should:

    • Underline or highlight key phrases that they find meaningful
    • Determine their candidate's perspective about the role of religion in U.S. elections
  3. Distribute copies of the chart template [link] to each student. In their groups of four, students will share their candidate's perspective about the role of religion in U.S. elections. Groups will compare and contrast Obama's and Kennedy's position by completing the chart. Remind students to consider each document's historical context.

Part Three: Put Your Pen Where Your Mouth Is

  1. Prepare five poster-sized pages (flip charts work well) each with one of the following five quotations and hang them around the classroom. If you have a large class, duplicate the quotations.
    • "I am not here to run for cardinalÉAnd I'm not going to get into discussions about how I feel about all my church's beliefs and my church's doctrines... All that does, in my view, is play into religious bigotry." Gov. Mitt Romney, 2006
    • Pew Forum Survey, August, 2006

      Religion's Influence: Growing or Shrinking?
       On American Life - %On Government - %
        Good thing2115
        Bad thing1124
        Good thing68
        Bad thing5036
      No Change (vol.)26
      Don't Know52

    • "The 2008 election is for president, not for pastor." Charles Mitchell, blogger
    • "I think it's important for people who have deep religious views and are in politics to wear their tolerance on their sleeve and to make it clear that, in our eyes, we're all God's people." Senator (and Episcopal minister) John Danforth, 2006
    • "My relationship with God, through Christ, has given me meaning and direction. My faith has made a big difference in my personal life and in my public life as well." President George W. Bush
  2. Prepare students to be silent for this activity. They are to express themselves through writing or drawing on the big paper. Remind students that though the activity will be conducted in silence, the class must feel safe to participate. Obviously, inappropriate communication will not be permitted.
  3. Invite students to circulate around the quotations and write or draw their direct reactions to the quotations or to their classmates' reactions.
  4. Reconvene as a class to discuss the activity. Suggested prompts include:

    • Invite students to share what it was like, yet again, to communicate their positions without speaking.
    • Ask them to highlight a student comment or image that stood out to them. Is there strong agreement or disagreement with the statement?
  5. Either as a class, in small groups or as an extended homework assignment, students will write a one page op-ed piece highlighting what they believe the role of religion should be in U.S. elections. Students should support their views with specific examples from the pre-lesson activity and the featured lesson.

Methods of Assessment