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'Today' Show Panel Ponders: 'Does Religion Belong in Our Political Discourse?'

Citing Rick Santorum questioning President Obama's "theology" and recent comments form evangelist Franklin Graham, on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie wondered: "Does religion belong in our political discourse?" Show panelists – attorney Star Jones, advertising executive Donny Deutsch, and NBC medical editor Nancy Snyderman – gave a resounding no:

>JONES: Not if people are going to actually be talking about the relationship that they have with God or Christ or Buddha or whomever. I think it's inappropriate for people to bring in their own personal religion in politics.

>DEUTSCH: I think religion is the problem in the world. We all fight about religion and to me, everybody has their own faith and God bless. That is part of who somebody is....I think it's terrible what they do and they use it divisively – but it's part of who somebody is, so it's hard to dissect it out.

>SNYDERMAN: Yeah, but it's this pushing people's buttons....It's the, "Obama's still a Muslim, you can't trust a Mormon"....It wasn't that long ago that Jack Kennedy was a Catholic. And so, if we don't do it to advance conversations, we do it to throw up roadblocks.

Guthrie followed up: "Do you think talking about religion in the context of politics hurts religion? Does it bother any of you?" Jones chimed in: "Only when you have somebody who is hypocritical standing up there and trying to put themselves on the cross. You know, don't use Christ in order to advance something when you know good and well you're not being a Christian."

Considering that Today has promoted the religion debate in its political coverage on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, it's curious the broadcast would suddenly fret over candidates discussing faith.

Here is a transcript of the February 23 panel discussion:

9:10AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Actually we have a hot topic to talk about, religion and politics. You know the old saying, never discuss religion or politics, well, in this campaign season we're hearing a lot of both. I mean you had Rick Santorum the other day, comments that some people interpreted as him questioning the President's theology.

NANCY SNYDERMAN: Because he used the word "theology."

GUTHRIE: Right. Which he has an explanation for that. But even we heard of Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham, questioning Mitt Romney's faith, questioning the President's faith. So the basic question I put out to you, does religion belong in our political discourse? Let's start with you, Star.

STAR JONES: Not if people are going to actually be talking about the relationship that they have with God or Christ or Buddha or whomever. I think it's inappropriate for people to bring in their own personal religion in politics. Because politics is culture. It's not about Christianity or Judaism.

GUTHRIE: Do you think that character has no place in politics?

JONES: Character absolutely has a place, because it shows judgment or lack thereof.

GUTHRIE: But if religion drives your character or your decisions is it not relevant?

JONES: But religion is different than relationship. Religion is about your affiliation with a certain doctrine. Relationship is about your affiliation with God.

DONNY DEUTSCH: But Star – now we can go back to fighting.

JONES: Yes.

DEUTSCH: But the interesting thing is, look, I think religion is the problem in the world. We all fight about religion and to me, everybody has their own faith and God bless. That is part of who somebody is. So it's very hard to tell an electorate, "Well, you can keep religion out of it, but talk about relationships."

SNYDERMAN: Yeah, but Donny-

DEUTSCH: By the way, as long as – no, no, no, I think it's terrible what they do and they use it divisively – but it's part of who somebody is, so it's hard to dissect it out.

SNYDERMAN: Yeah, but it's this pushing people's buttons.
JONES: That's what it is.

DEUTSCH: Duh.

SNYDERMAN: It's the, "Obama's still a Muslim,...

DEUTSCH: Of course it is, it's disgusting.

SNYDERMAN: ...you can't trust a Mormon."

DEUTSCH: But it's hard to keep-

SNYDERMAN: It wasn't that long ago that Jack Kennedy was a Catholic. And so, if we don't do it to advance conversations,...

DEUTSCH: Of course we don't.

SNYDERMAN: ...we do it to throw up roadblocks.

DEUTSCH: It's wrong but it's impossible to keep it out of the discussion.

GUTHRIE: Do you – you may argue that politics – that religion doesn't belong in politics. Do you think talking about religion in the context of politics hurts religion? Does it bother any of you to see how-?

JONES: Only when you have somebody who is hypocritical standing up there and trying to put themselves on the cross. You know, don't use Christ in order to advance something when you know good and well you're not being a Christian. There's a big difference.

-- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.