Bernie Sanders on Religion & Beliefs

Bernie Sanders supports people’s right to freely congregate, practice, and express their faith within legal bounds. 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

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 position gives us 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 diversity. This fundamental right is upheld by the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

How has Bernie encouraged the separation of church and state?

In 2001, Bernie voted against the Community Solutions Act allowing federal funding for social service groups that proselytize at events or discriminate during employment. This bill would have provided federal funding to religious organizations that provide social services, and there was concern that it would lead to providing federal money to organizations that discriminate based on religious beliefs. It could also have indirectly violated the establishment clause due to federal funding of services that specifically support one religion over another.

Bernie additionally 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)

Another integral aspect to U.S. religious freedoms is the right to be protected if choosing to practice and express faith in a lawful manner. This fundamental right is upheld by the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Freedom of religion does not permit limiting others’ rights to live as they choose. This is especially true if the limitation leads to discriminatory or unsafe circumstances in public settings. If a private organization solicits business from the American public, that business has an obligation to comply with U.S. law.

In which ways does Bernie honor and uphold religious protections?

Bernie recognizes the distinction between individual personal values that should not be infringed upon and the enforcement of legal, non-discriminatory policies. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality — a civil contract granting benefits under U.S. law — Bernie was asked in an interview if we should strip organizations of their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status if those organizations 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 of on others. In the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that religious business owners do not have to provide contraceptive coverage for their female workers even though not doing so would be in violation of the Affordable Care Act. The owners of the company consider it a “religious burden” to provide the contraceptives.

Following these events Bernie issued a statement stating, “Bosses should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.” He and a group of senators filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that a religious freedom law did not extend rights to for-profit corporations.

Bernie has been a strong opponent of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Although the law was 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.”

See Bernie’s comments on this law in this video, during an interview on the PBS:

Bernie on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law.

Bernie’s Beliefs

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

What is Bernie’s own faith?

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

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

Bernie is married to Jane O’Meara who was raised in a Roman Catholic household.

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 regarding how to fight structural inequalities, systemic discrimination, and climate change.

And recently, 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 in September 2015. 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.”


Listen to Bernie begin to address the student body:

And here is Bernie invoking Pope Francis to hammer home his message on the immorality of inequality:

Check out Bernie’s full speech here.