PALIN’S BELIEFS DRAW CLOSER SCRUTINY…. At the outset, it’s important to note that Sarah Palin is free to embrace any religious beliefs she wants. It’s between her and her conscience what, or even whether, she believes. For that matter, the Constitution makes it abundantly clear that there is no religious test for public office.

But there’s been a push of late, most notably from the right, to make candidates’ spirituality an important aspect of evaluating those seeking national office. And with that in mind, Palin’s beliefs, which stray a bit from the mainstream, are drawing closer scrutiny.

For more than two decades, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was a practicing Pentecostal.

She belonged to the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. But though she attended the church from her teenage years to 2002, the Alaska governor hasn’t talked much about her religion since joining the Republican ticket.

Palin’s former pastor, Tim McGraw, says that like many Pentecostal churches, some members speak in tongues, although he says he’s never seen Palin do so. Church member Caroline Spangler told CNN, “When the spirit comes on you, you utter things that nobody else can understand … only God can understand what is coming out of our mouths.”

Some Pentecostals from Assembly of God also believe in “faith healing” and the “end times” — a violent upheaval that they believe will deliver Jesus Christ’s second coming.

The McCain campaign told CNN that Palin “doesn’t consider herself Pentecostal,” but McGraw said Palin’s Pentecostal roots may be being downplayed for political reasons. The campaign would not elaborate further of Palin’s spirituality, saying only that she has “deep religious convictions.”

Now, there are probably going to be some who look askance at a practicing Pentecostal who attends a church where people speak in tongues, and people are free to draw their own conclusions about their comfort level. From my perspective, I’m very much inclined to consider all of this a personal matter, outside the political realm.

I do, however, think Palin, given her public comments, should answer a few reasonable questions:

* Does she believe in the separation of church and state? Is she comfortable with a government that remains entirely neutral on matters of faith?

* Does she believe public officials should use religious beliefs to shape public policy? Palin recently said those fighting the war in Iraq are “out on a task that is from God,” and added, in the same remarks, that “God’s will” was responsible for a national gas pipeline project in Alaska. Might she be willing to elaborate on what this means?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.