According to polls, most Americans want a president with strong religious beliefs and they want to know how a candidate's faith shapes his or her values and policy proposals. The trouble comes, some say, when political leaders use religion as a weapon to inflict political harm.
"During the last couple of decades there's been a dramatic tilt toward a more partisan religious political culture," says David Domke, communications professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and coauthor of "The God Strategy."
Critics also cite news media that turn faith into mere entertainment or play it for controversy. Some questions asked during televised debates have been helpful, they say, but others have been inappropriate or irrelevant, bordering on religious vetting. The Interfaith Alliance (TIA), a religious liberty watchdog, became so concerned it released a video called "Top Ten Moments in the Race for Pastor-in-Chief." Among the questions it criticized: "What's the worst sin you've committed?" and "Do you believe every word of the Bible?"
"Why ask Senator Clinton about 'feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit'?" complained TIA president Welton Gaddy after the Compassion Forum aired on CNN in April. "Far more useful would be specific questions about how their faith would impact their policy positions."