The 2016 election season has been filled with the usual array of candidate questioning, though there are some intriguing themes involving religion, atheism and the separation of church and state that have been popping up at towntownhallhall events with increased fervency of late.
Individuals on both the Republican and Democratic sides have been peppered with questions about where they stand on the First Amendment. And those questions have seemingly all come from one source: 34-year-old Justin Scott of Waterloo, Iowa, a self-described "atheist voter."
Consider that Florida senator Marco Rubio, a GOP candidate, was recently "confronted" and questioned by Scott during an event in Waverly, Iowa, according to the Associated Press.
"No one’s going to force you to believe in God. But no one’s going to force me to stop talking about God," Rubio said. "Not only am I a Christian, not only am I influenced by my faith, but it is the single greatest influence in my life. And from that I’ll never hide."
And Rubio's fellow contender, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, also faced a tough question a few days ago from Scott while he, too, was campaigning in Iowa, with the atheist activist asking whether Carson agrees that "God's law trumps our country's law."
Additionally, Scott asked if the candidate would ever choose his faith over U.S. law. Carson responded by noting that "everybody, including atheists, live according to their faith," as the Christian Post reported.
"I have strong faith in God and live by godly principles of loving your fellow man, caring about your neighbor, developing your God-given talents," Carson continued. "And that's going to dictate how I treat everybody. Fortunately our Constitution, which is the supreme law of our land, was designed by men of faith and it has a Judeo-Christian foundation. Therefore, there is no conflict there."
Watch those comments below:
These questions weren't impromptu, as media accounts identify the activist as Scott; it also appears that the Republicans weren't the only individuals to face the atheist. Hillary Clinton, too, has encountered him on the campaign trail.
In a short video of their exchange, Scott discusses "laws that are based on religious beliefs that end up discriminating against people" and asks Clinton, "How do we stop that?"
Here's how Clinton responded: "Well, look, I think we’ve gotta stick with our founding principles of separation between church and state. And remember — It was done in the beginning mostly to protect religion from the state. ... We need to stick with what has worked."
Watch that exchange below:
In a guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog that was published on Dec. 30, 2015, Scott explained that he had been working on a plan to "make sure atheists have a voice in the Iowa caucuses." In addition to helping the Secular Coalition for America launch an Iowa affiliate, Scott wrote that he would be working to help motivate atheists across the state to make their voices heard.
"Ideally, by caucus night, we’ll have rallied a large contingent of atheist voters who will be able to not only take part in the caucus process, but help us flood the state party offices with platform ideas that are secular in nature (e.g. reproductive rights, church/state separation)," he wrote. "If we get enough support for these planks, they could become part of the state party’s platform."
Scott also made it clear that he has "no personal interest in getting 'atheists to support Republicans'" but said that there are atheist Republicans who do not agree with the "religious right's agenda," and that he was hoping to rally them in terms of advancing secular values.
In addition to this activism, Scott has been posting clips to his YouTube page that feature his interactions with candidates during their campaign stops in Iowa. From Rubio, Carson and Clinton to Mike Huckabee, these back-and-forths have been intriguing.
"Why should I vote for you? Why should millions of atheists around the country support a candidate that has made comments like you've made about us?" Scott asked, to which Huckabee responded, "What [comments] have I made about you?"
Scott said that those comments "haven't been pretty." Watch it below:
Meanwhile, Rand Paul seemingly wasn't willing to entertain Scott's questioning:
The atheist activist also visited a Jeb Bush event, where he asked the candidate if he's a "defender of the separation of church and state."
See Bush's response here:
In a video that was uploaded on Feb. 1, Scott told Ohio governor John Kasich that he was the tenth 2016 contender with whom he was speaking. The two went back and forth over religion, with Kasich saying that he wouldn't shove his beliefs down Scott's throat.
"I happen to believe there is a higher power," he said.
Watch it below:
Scott told the Washington Post that he became an atheist two years ago, and that he had approached these interactions as an activist seeking a greater understanding about where the candidates stand.
"I went into this as an atheist activist, as a secular activist, as somebody who wants to know where candidates stand on separation of church and state," he said.
What do you think? See all of Scott's candidate interactions here.