Questions about Bernie Sanders' faith have emerged throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, but the leak of nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails instantly brought the issue back to the forefront this weekend.
Despite his Jewish roots, some have speculated that Sanders is an atheist based on his past comments about faith and religion — a dynamic that was apparently discussed as a potential campaign issue in the DNC's now-leaked emails.
Among those many messages was one particular email that has sparked the most backlash — a message in which a committee staffer seemingly suggested that someone should strategically ask Sanders about his belief in God to purportedly bolster rival Hillary Clinton's electoral chances.
"Does he believe in a God? He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist," wrote Brad Marshall, chief financial officer for the DNC. "This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist."
While not specifically named in the email, it is widely believed that it was Sanders who Marshall was referencing.
Amidst the debate over the emails and the ongoing speculation surrounding Sanders' faith, the former Democratic presidential candidate appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday to defend himself.
"First of all, I am not an atheist," he proclaimed, calling the leak itself "outrageous."
See Sanders defend himself here:
Sanders went on to say that he found it "sad" to see "people in important positions in the DNC trying to undermine" his campaign, adding that the party should have been treating him and Clinton with fairness and equality.
In the end, the email scandal led to the resignation of DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz, though the debate over Sanders' faith is nothing new.
Speculation about Sanders' religious views ramped up last October after an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" during which he was directly asked whether he believes in God.
It was the nature of the candidate's response that piqued the interest of some viewers.
Kimmel cited Sanders' claims that he is "culturally Jewish" and that he doesn't "feel religious" and then asked about a belief in God. He also questioned whether Sanders thinks it is important for Americans to embrace a higher power.
"I am who I am and what I believe in and what my spirituality is about is that we’re all in this together," Sanders responded. "That I think it is not a good thing to believe that as human beings we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people."
He continued, "This is not Judaism — this is what Pope Francis is talking about — that we cannot worship just billionaires and the making of more and more money. Life is more than that."
Watch those comments below:
A few months later, speculation once again raged after Sanders did an interview with The Washington Post in which he said that he doesn't necessarily believe in God in a traditional sense.
"I am not actively involved with organized religion," he told the outlet. "I think everyone believes in God in their own ways. To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together."
His brother Larry Sanders also told the outlet that the candidate was "quite substantially not religious."
With these statements leading to a plethora of questions, Sanders spoke out at a town hall in February and made some spiritual clarifications that "dashed the hopes of some atheists," as Religion News Service reported at the time.
"It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely, it is," Sanders said of faith. "Everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States, if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings."
See those comments below:
So, despite the debate, Sanders has said that he isn't an atheist, though the finer details of his faith are not overtly known or understood.45 comments on this story
Either way, the debate over his religious views — and the DNC email leak — has at least one prominent atheist group calling for Marshall's resignation.
"Entertaining such a cynical and bigoted line of attack violates any number of basic American principles: It presumes a religious test for holding office, something expressly prohibited in the Constitution," reads a statement from the Center for Inquiry. "We believe [Marshall] should resign his position with the DNC."