With the California primaries just around the corner, students are mobilizing aggressively around crucial campaign issues such as immigration, universal healthcare, the war in Iraq – and for some, faith.

Today, Progressive Christian Students, an organization that explores the connection between faith and political ideals, will host an open forum designed to facilitate discussion regarding the role of religion in the upcoming presidential election. “Faith, Politics and the Primaries” is scheduled to take place in the Student Resource Building from 12 to 1 p.m.

According to St. Michael’s University Church Chaplain, the Reverend Nicole Janelle, Christianity is often misconstrued as an extreme and intolerant religion affiliated with the Republican Party platform.

“Very often Christianity is labeled as conservative, evangelical or fundamentalist,” Janelle said. “I’m quite sure Christianity has another face of justice, inclusion and progressive ideals.”

Janelle said that many members of Progressive Christian Students actually align themselves with more liberal causes.

“People who support progressive politics tend to vote on the liberal side,” Janelle said. “However, everyone at the event will have their different view.”

Progressive Christian Students leader Sarah Schulman, a fourth-year cultural anthropology and business economics major, said that the organization is aware of such stereotypes associated with the Christian religion but that the group’s stances on several issues defy these categorizations.

“The club realizes that the word ‘Christianity’ has a very conservative connotation and we want to let people know that there are Christians who are politically progressive,” Schulman said. “Our club is gay-friendly and environmentally friendly and most of us are Democrats.”

Janelle also said that the United States’ tradition of separating religion and politics has both advantages and disadvantages that are up for debate at the meeting.

“The idea behind tomorrow’s event is to help people talk about how faith plays into politics,” Janelle said. “In our society there is separation of church and state and this has its strengths and its weaknesses.”

However, third-year business economics major Justin Chapman said he thinks that policies of church and state should stay separate.

“I don’t think religion has a role in politics,” Chapman said. “I don’t think religion should be associated with politics in any way. They are two totally separate things.”

Progressive Christian Students President Colin Dunn, a third-year biology psychology major, said he wants to encourage students of all backgrounds and beliefs to contribute to the dialogue.

“Basically, in this debate we want both sides – those who believe religion has a role in politics and those who don’t,” Dunn said. “We want people who are generally not tolerated in a hardcore evangelical atmosphere to come and contribute and do some thinking.”

While the designated topic of the event is the role of religion in the upcoming primaries, Schulman said the event is not intended to endorse any particular candidate but rather to open avenues of dialogue related to campaign topics.

“It’s an open discussion of progressive social views and Christianity,” Schulman said. “Our group is not there to pick a candidate, but there will be topics [raised] like abortion – if you can have one and still be a Christian – that are very relevant.”

Progressive Christian Students has launched a series of weekly lunch meetings this quarter, each focused around a unique topic involving religion and politics, Schulman said, in order to make the group more accessible to students.

“Our group hopes to provide a space on campus to discuss politics and religious views,” Schulman said. “It seems the two would conflict but they actually do not.”