The Proper Grilling of Candidates

August 04, 1994

When the Carroll County Education Association posed the question of whether candidates running for various county offices belonged to the Church of the Open Door, the teacher's union committed a horrendous blunder. The question was clearly inappropriate, but some of the subsequent indignation has been overwrought.

An organization such as the CCEA has every right to decide which political candidates it will support during the election campaign. Endorsing candidates who support positions that are deemed to be inimical to its members' interests would be foolish.

Asking probing questions about the issues that are important to the CCEA and its members is the only way to determine which candidates deserve support. During its interview process, somebody decided that rather than ask pointed questions about book censorship, tuition tax credits, prayer in schools, creationism, Outcomes-Based Education or sex education, they would use a short cut. Instead, they asked whether or not the candidate belonged to a fundamentalist or evangelical church.

The thinking was simple -- and simple-minded.

If candidates belonged to the Church of the Open Door or supported Pat Robertson or Jimmy Swaggart, the questioner obviously thought that the candidate backed positions antithetical to the CCEA's interests. This line of questioning represents the worst in guilt by association and leaping to conclusions through innuendo.

By the same token, people who run for political office have to expect that they will be closely questioned about issues that are important to the voters. If candidates who profess to be "pro-family" and "in favor of Christian values" think they can evade this type of careful examination by labeling it "anti-Christian," they are mistaken. Political positions on issues such as welfare, school financing, curriculum development or criminal matters are fair game. To use their church affiliation as a shield against probing inquiries on issues is a disingenuous political device.

Grilling candidates is politically correct, and we expect that from now until the election, voters will be asking the very questions that the CCEA may have neglected to ask. As far as we know, that is the only way the electorate can make informed choices.

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