SOUTH BEND -- Five prominent religious leaders debated the role of religion in politics Tuesday night at the first installment of the 2012-13 Notre Dame Forum, "A More Perfect Union: The Future of America's Democracy."
The panel discussion, titled "Conviction & Compromise: Being a Person of Faith in a Liberal Democracy," posed questions to the five national leaders regarding their faith's beliefs on if a religious institution should take a public stand in politics, and how their members should utilize their religions in the political process.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the ruling body of his faith remains removed from political acts, with a few exceptions.
"In very exceptional situations we would take a position on a public issue we would consider to have very important moral implications," he said.
Similarly, the Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville, Ky., said the Catholic Church obligates its members, including those in higher positions, to reflect their beliefs in their societies.
"On important public issues we take a stance and seek to educate and persuade people in a rational way," Kurtz said. "We don't endorse candidates and we don't coerce voters."
Although the church does require Catholics to hold certain beliefs that may be inconsistent with the stances of different political parties, Kurtz said this is not coercion since Catholics make a conscious choice to accept the church and its teachings.
For the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, his nonpastoral role in his faith enables him to advocate for certain politicians more strongly.
"I feel the freedom to say what I think needs to be said," Cizik said. "There is no alternative to religious leaders assuming a prophetic role now and then to hold these public officers to a higher standard. If we on this stage don't say these things now and then, then who is?"
The incorporation of religion into the voting process differs for Mormons, Oaks said. Members of his faith are taught to draw upon their religious beliefs in regard to their political choices, but only to a certain limit.
"We believe people of faith should insist on their right to participate in the political process, but should refrain from beating others over the head with their religious beliefs," he said.
Rabbi David Saperstein, the director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, agreed religion and politics should not intermingle much, and said the separation of church and state in America is an important facet of the government to uphold.
"America has given the Jewish people more opportunities and freedoms than we've known anywhere else," Saperstein said. "That law that kept God out of government has allowed religion to flourish here."
Saperstein said candidates should never be chosen based on their religious identity, but rather they should be elected for their qualifications.
Pastor Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., echoed Saperstein's ideas, and said while voters might take religious identity into account, it should not be the most important factor in the choice.
"When I go into a voting booth, I'm electing a president, not a pastor," he said. "I want him to have presidential skills -- not pastoral skills."
There will never be a political party whose platforms a religion or a voter agrees with entirely, Warren said, but that should not be cause for strife.
"My philosophy is we work together for the common good when we can, and we disagree in the areas we'll disagree in, but without being disagreeable," he said.