Bernie Sanders on Religion & Beliefs

Bernie Sanders supports people’s right to freely congregate, practice, and express their faith. To protect both personal religious freedoms and civic equality, Bernie advocates for the separation of church and state, which allows Americans to honor diversity, respect personal autonomy, and voluntarily choose to practice or abstain from religious faith.

Separation of Church & State: Public laws ought to be independent of any one particular faith to maximize religious freedoms for all.

Religious Freedom (Non-Discriminatory Right to Express Faith or Non-Faith): Individuals should be allowed to express and practice their beliefs and values, even if they are in disagreement with public policy, but religious freedom is not a right to discriminate.

Bernie’s Beliefs: Bernie is a secular Jew who values and actively engages with people of various faiths for the betterment of society.

Separation of Church & State

The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from officially recognizing or preferring one religion over another. Bernie believes that the separation of church and state exists not to censor faith-oriented expressions, but to protect religious liberties. It allows for personal choice in disclosing faith affiliations while promoting equal rights and opportunities. This fundamental right gives individuals the opportunity to explore and engage in faith untethered by government coercion. It also allows for social cooperation and supports a non-threatening public atmosphere that values religious diversity.

Watch Bernie speak about the separation of Church and State:

How has Bernie encouraged the separation of church and state?

In 2001, Bernie voted against the Community Solutions Act, which allows federal funds to go to religious organizations that proselytize while providing social services and that engage in employment discrimination based on religion. Civil rights groups were concerned that religious beliefs could be used to exclude people from critical federally funded social services based on sexual orientation or an unwillingness to adhere to the providers’ religious beliefs. The ACLU argued that the Community Solutions Act violated the Establishment Clause due to federal funding of services that specifically support one religion over another.

Bernie also voted for an amendment to the bill that prohibited organizations receiving funding from employment discrimination or utilizing federal funds for religious purposes.

Religious Freedom (Non-Discriminatory Right to Express Faith or Non-Faith)

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the fundamental right of Freedom of Religion. This right empowers Americans to choose to practice any religion or no religion and the right to express faith in a lawful manner. If a private organization receives public funding, that business has an obligation to comply with U.S. laws including those that prohibit discrimination.

How does Bernie honor and uphold religious protections?

Bernie recognizes the distinction between personal values that should not be infringed upon and the enforcement of non-discrimination laws. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, Bernie was asked in an interview if the tax-exempt status should be removed from 501(c)(3) organizations that refuse to perform privately-held religious wedding ceremonies:

Jake Tapper, CNN: “I’m wondering if you support, as I have heard from many other progressives, the idea of taking away the tax exemption from any organizations, including religious ones, that do not recognize same-sex marriage.”

Bernie: “I don’t know that I would go there now. You know, we have religious freedom, and I respect people who have different points of view. But my view is that people have a right to love each other, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.”

Tell me more about Bernie’s record with regards to religious freedoms.

Importantly, Bernie believes having the freedom to believe whatever you want does not entitle you to impose those beliefs on others. In the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that business owners aren’t required to provide contraceptive coverage for their female workers under the Affordable Care Act if doing so violates the owners’ religious beliefs.

Bernie issued a statement criticizing the Hobby Lobby case, stating. “Bosses should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”

He joined other senators in filing a friend-of-the-court brief which argued that the law’s protections were never intended to extend to for-profit companies

The law at issue was one Bernie voted for as a Congressman, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. This law protects religious freedom because it requires a compelling state interest for the federal government to restrict a person’s free exercise of religion.

However, Bernie was a strong opponent of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Although the law was ostensibly written to allow individuals and companies to assert that their exercise of religion as an act of freedom, a report by Politifact states that “conservatives in Indiana and elsewhere see the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a vehicle for fighting back against the legalization of same-sex marriage.”

During an interview on the PBS, Bernie commented on why he disagrees with  Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law:

Bernie’s Beliefs

Bernie was raised Jewish but says he’s not “particularly religious.” That being said, he credits being Jewish with impressing upon him the important of politics.

How do his beliefs affect the way he works with faith groups?

Bernie believes social and economic justice connects people of all beliefs. He has said he finds himself “very close to the teachings of Pope Francis,” the Roman Catholic leader who has distinguished his papacy by releasing encyclicals that discuss how to fight structural inequalities, systemic discrimination, and climate change.

In 2015, Bernie accepted an invitation from Liberty University, a socially conservative, evangelical college founded by the late Jerry Falwell, to speak at the school’s convocation. Regarding why he accepted an invitation from the school, Bernie said:

“It goes without saying that my views on many issues — women’s rights, gay rights, education and many other issues — are very different from the opinions of some in the Liberty University community. I think it is important, however, to see if we can reach consensus regarding the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country, about the collapse of the middle class, about the high level of childhood poverty, about climate change and other issues. It is very easy for a candidate to speak to people who hold the same views. It’s harder but important to reach out to others who look at the world differently.”

You can watch Bernie’s full speech:


In February 2016, Bernie spoke at a prayer breakfast with South Carolina church leaders and pastors.

In April 2016, Bernie was invited to speak about income inequality at a conference of academics that advises the Vatican. While there, Bernie met briefly with Pope Francis. Bernie has repeatedly praised Pope Francis for his leadership on economic justice and climate change.