'Article VI' Investigates How Religion Influences Voters

Meant to play directly into the presidential race, Living Biography Media has produced “Article VI”, a documentary on faith and politics in America. Article VI refers the section of the Constitution on debts, supremecy and oaths, which says, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The film, set to release January 16, is aimed at encouraging discussion about the influence of religion among voters — before most early primaries occur.

Like a new-fangled “primary color”, a candidate’s religious affiliation is now running par with their policy, principle and voting record. Yesterday, that new facet was at the top of the agenda when Mitt Romney delivered his long-anticipated “religion speech” clarifying his Mormon faith. Romney’s faith has been the subject of controversy and according to a Rasmussen poll last year, 43% of Americans said they would “never vote for a Mormon.” 

This hullabaloo and other speculation on religious affiliation prompted Producer Bryan Hall to explore the film’s topic. He noticed an increasingly narrow focus on specific aspects of religions — like Romney’s — rather than a broader focus on the basic values of political leadership.

“I don’t recall it being this way in years previous,” he said in a conference call yesterday. “We realized that…anytime there’s a prominent office up for grabs….the candidates get drilled on their religion — do they believe, do they believe enough, do they believe too much?”

In a close Iowa primary race with former underdog and ordained Baptist Minister Mike Huckabee, Romney has reluctantly emphasized his Mormonism.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has received negative attention for having spent two years at a Muslim school in Indonesia when he was young. In speeches, he has emphasized America’s religious diversity, saying “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation, we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers… If we expelled every non-Christian from the United States, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?”

In the August 19 Democrat debate, candidates were asked if and when they prayed and Republicans have been asked if they “believe every word of the Bible” among other zingers.

Hall said they want to “make people stop and think — how does my faith or my bias or lack of bias, my perception, affect my vote?” He claimed voters used to care more about more general values rather than particular religious vices, which are likely more personal than political.

Reed Dickens, former assistant White House press secretary, who co-produced the film, said after hearing from spokespersons of all major religions in the country, he discovered that “people of almost every religion seem to think their faith is under attack.”

Though religion, specifically Christian denominations, had a foundational part in building America, a battle to eliminate its public presence is constant. Heightened scrutiny of religious life has prompted some atheists to wage battles to remove “In God We Trust” from the American mint and — again — there is litigation to force removal of the words “under God” from the pledge of allegiance.  Just last year a Muslim Congressman was sworn in on the Koran instead of the Bible.

The intent of “Article VI” isn’t to persuade voters one way or another, but to promote healthy dialogue. The trailer is begins and ends with clips of John F. Kennedy, Jr., whose speech on Catholicism during the 1960 campaign has been much-discussed in the few past weeks in anticipation of today’s speech by Mitt Romney. Kennedy’s famous line was this: “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President, who happens also to be a Catholic.” It has followed him loyally ever since.

“We want to cause voters to do some reflecting on how much does a candidate’s religion affect my vote,” said Dickens. “Should it matter if values are similar to mine but their religion does not?”

Dickens and Reed said they don’t want to change anyone’s vote, but perhaps persuade individuals to re-evaluate their thinking. After hearing Romney’s impressive speech and watching “Article VI”, voters may perceive their decisions in a new light.