Father Jonathan Morris, a Catholic priest and cultural commentator, is taking heat from some who interpreted his recent on-air statements about politics and faith as definitively saying that atheists aren't viable presidential candidates due to their lack of belief in a higher power.
Debate over Morris' comments came after a Sunday appearance on "Fox & Friends," during which he discussed speeches given by GOP presidential candidates during the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Iowa this past weekend.
"You can't fake religion," Morris said, noting that what really matters is the stance that each candidate has consistently had. "I think that they have to be very clear about the values that they believe in, not making stuff up in order to get votes. And then people will say, 'You know what, I like him even if I disagree with some of his beliefs ... I can trust him to be who he says he is."
Morris did say that it is "hard to trust" candidates who do not have core beliefs in which justice is a coveted value, though he did not pointedly say that atheists are "not suitable" candidates, as some have alleged.
"If it doesn't inform your life then it's not faith, because faith is a set of beliefs. It's a belief in God, it's a belief that there are eternal consequences for your actions," he said. "And I think a leader that doesn't have a set of core beliefs that help him to make justice an important part of his life and his decisions — because he knows that there are eternal consequences — well it's … hard to trust."
When he was specifically asked about whether atheists are qualified to be president, he responded, "I would say faith is not the most important thing, but wisdom in terms of a leader, but, yes, I think it certainly makes a difference who that person is."
Critics responded in the comments section over at Raw Story, and Morris was accused of saying that "atheists were not suitable candidates for president."
"The catholic church [sic] is and always has been a fear and ignorance based organization because people who are afraid and stupid are easy to control," wrote one commentator named jimbo701.
Another named TechYes responded by adding, "That's plain old bigotry, and unlike religion, you really can't fake that."
The United States has never elected an openly atheist president, with past polls showing that a substantial portion of citizens would have a problem with a nonbeliever running the country.
That said, in a 2012 Gallup poll, 54 percent of citizens said that they would vote for an atheist, with 43 percent claiming that they would not. While that proportion was still relatively low, it marks a major change in thinking about faith and values.
Consider that in 1958, only 18 percent of Americans said they’ve vote for a secularist.
Also, consider that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp — who is herself an open atheist — once said that she would never vote for a fellow non-believer for president.
"And you know what? I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever," she said on MSNBC's "The Cycle" back in 2012. "Because I do not think that someone who represents 5 to 10 percent of the population should be representing and thinking that everyone else in the world is crazy, but me."
Reflecting similar sentiment to Morris, she added, "The other part of it — I like that there is a check, OK? That there’s a person in the office that doesn’t think he’s bigger than the state. I like religion being a check and knowing that my president goes home every night addressing someone above him and not thinking all the power resides right here… Atheists don’t have that."
What do you think? Would you vote for an atheist candidate? Take the poll below:
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