Religion and Politics ’08: John Edwards
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, J.D., 1977
North Carolina State University, B.A., 1974
Formally declared candidacy Dec. 28, 2006.
Formally withdrew candidacy Jan. 30, 2008.
Endorsed candidacy of Barack Obama May 14, 2008.
U.S. Senator from North Carolina, 1998-2005
Director, Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, University of North Carolina School of Law, 2004-2006
Partner, Edwards & Kirby, 1993-1998
Partner, Tharrington Smith & Hargrove, 1984-1992
Associate, Tharrington Smith & Hargrove, 1981-1983
Associate, Dearborn & Ewing, 1978-1981
Law Clerk, Office of Judge Franklin T. Dupree Jr., United States District Court for the Eastern District, 1977-1978
Spouse: Elizabeth Edwards
Children: Lucius Wade Edwards (d. 1996), Cate Edwards, Emma Claire Edwards, Jack Edwards
As a child growing up in Robbins, N.C., Edwards attended and was baptized in a Southern Baptistchurch where his father has served as a deacon. Edwards says “he drifted away” from faith during his college years. After his marriage to Elizabeth in 1977, the pair attended church but religion played only a minor a role in their lives. It was “not the sort of dominant day-to-day living faith that it is for me today,” said Edwards.
When his 16-year-old son Wade was killed in a car crash in 1996, Edwards’ “faith came roaring back,” hesaid. Religion “played an enormous role in my ability to get through that period, and it stayed with me and has been enormously important.” Edwards says his faith has helped him cope with personal hardships, including his wife’s battles with breast cancer, and the challenges he has faced in his political life.
Edwards became a United Methodist, joining the country’s largest mainline Protestant denomination. He attends Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C. He also served on the board of Urban Ministries of Wake County, a faith-based group that provides social services to the needy.
As a senator, he co-chaired the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event in which U.S. government employees, officials from other countries and others pray and listen to an address from the president.
On The Issues
Abortion A supporter of abortion rights, Edwards also favors funding for “family planning.” Edwards’ presidential candidacy has won the support of a prominent abortion rights advocate, Kate Michelman, who is helping the campaign reach out to women. In the April 2007 Democratic debate, Edwards said, “I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I think this is an extraordinarily difficult issue for America.” Compare McCain and Obama
Church and State Edwards says he believes in the separation of church and state, but also thinks that there is a role for faith in public life. He said “freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion,” but he “would not, under any circumstances, try to impose [his] personal faith and belief on the rest of the country.” Compare McCain and Obama
Death Penalty Edwards supports the death penalty, saying some crimes “deserve the ultimate penalty.” He was a supporter of capital punishment reform while in the Senate and told the Associated Press in 2004 he believes that “we need reforms in the death penalty to ensure that defendants receive fair trials, with zealous and competent lawyers, and with full access to DNA testing.” Compare McCain and Obama
Education Edwards says children should be allowed time to pray on their own in schools, but that school-led prayer is inappropriate. He opposes school vouchers because he says they would “divert resources and energy from reform and divert students into the only schools that don’t have to meet high standards.” Compare McCain and Obama
Environment “Leading the fight against global warming” is one of Edwards’ top five priorities. He has called forcaps on greenhouse gas emissions, a global warming treaty with developing nations and increased funding for research into new energy sources. Edwards has also suggested banning new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. unless they recapture the greenhouse gases they create. Compare McCain and Obama
Faith-Based Initiatives Edwards says the poor would not survive in many parts of the country without “the existence of good, effective faith-based organizations.” When Edwards announced his presidential bid in New Orleans in December 2006, he extolled the work of faith-based groups in the city. “You walk around in these neighborhoods and what you’ll hear is that most of the good that has been done in New Orleans has been done by faith-based groups, charitable groups and volunteers,” he said. Compare McCain and Obama
Gay Marriage During his 2004 bid for the presidency, Edwards said that he personally opposed gay marriage, but supported civil unions for homosexual couples and said each state should determine its own policy. In 2006, Edwards called gay marriage “the single hardest social issue for me personally,” saying that while he supports civil unions and partnership benefits, “it’s a jump for me to get to gay marriage.” Compare McCain and Obama
Health Care Edwards’ universal health care proposal would provide tax credits for low-income families, expand Medicare and federal health care for children and create a federal health insurance agency that would eventually replace private health insurance. The plan would be funded through a roll-back of the Bush administration’s tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 a year and through currently-uncollected capital gains taxes. Compare McCain and Obama
Immigration Edwards supports increased border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. He says that immigration reform is central to alleviating poverty in the United States and that domestic policy goals like raising the minimum wage are connected to immigration reform because illegal immigrants make up a “sizeable chunk” of impoverished Americans. Compare McCain and Obama
Iraq War While serving in the Senate, Edwards voted in 2002 to authorize funding for the war in Iraq, a vote he has since called a mistake. He is now in favor of a complete withdrawal of troops within 12 to 18 months. He wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that “the world desperately needs moral leadership from America” and that “part of restoring America’s moral leadership is acknowledging when we’ve made mistakes.” Compare McCain and Obama
Poverty Edwards has made reducing poverty the signature issue of his presidential campaign, calling it “the great moral issue of our time.” He has set a goal of ending poverty in 30 years by lifting one-third of the 37 million currently impoverished Americans above the poverty line each decade through a higher minimum wage, tax cuts for low-income workers, universal health care and housing vouchers for low-income families. Edwards has also proposed a plan for ending global poverty that would feature schooling for every child and preventative health care. Compare McCain and Obama
Stem Cell Research Edwards favors expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He said during the 2004 presidential campaign that with such research, “people like [actor] Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.” Bill Frist, a physician who was then Senate Majority Leader, said the comment perpetuated false hope about the potential of stem cell research. Compare McCain and Obama