"As a journalist, I often say things that people do not agree with; this is part and parcel of being a journalist, and I fully accept that as a truth. No matter how many facts we give our readers, there are some who actively choose to ignore those facts, in order to preserve their world view. This article may be no exception; all I can endeavor to do is present the facts in a manner consistent with professional research.
As I journey across the Internet, I was surprised to find opinions and editorials that are questioning whether, in the United States, a de facto religious test is "required" by the conservative half of the American public in order to be President of the United States. The Constitution expressly forbids such a religious test for any public office in the land in Article 6,paragraph 3:
All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under theof the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and alland judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public under the United States.
Suppose a candidate for high office was a Scientologist, a movement with a claimed worldwide following of 6.5 million, which has since 1993 been granted tax-exempt status as a religion by the Internal Revenue Service — an exemption granted, to be sure, under unusual circumstances. Now suppose you’ve read the New Yorker piece from February (or any of the other investigative pieces) and harbor doubts about Scientology’s origins or its treatment of dissidents. The candidate says, “Wait a minute — I’ve gained insight and happiness from my beliefs, and I have no intention of imposing them on anyone else. Judge me by my public record and policies.” Do you vote against the candidate because of his faith?
• Suppose a candidate believed that the world was created 10,000 years ago, and that all astronomical and geological evidence to the contrary was just God’s way of testing us? Even if that candidate did not propose teaching this in public schools, what if you regarded that belief as something close to believing that Earth was flat? Would you feel entitled to say, “Sorry — that shows me you lack an ability to think clearly”?
• One more: Suppose you believe Jesus Christ is lord and savior — that this belief is at the core of your life. There’s a candidate on the ballot — Jewish or Unitarian, perhaps — who does not believe in the divinity of Christ. Would a vote against that candidate constitute an act of bigotry — or just reflect what you regard as your most important belief?
It’s understandable that members of a faith might find even the consideration of religious tests offensive.
So here’s one final point. In every poll on the question, the one belief toward which Americans are most hostile is atheism. More than Mormonism, more than Islam, the one faith that a majority of Americans say they would not accept in a president is: No faith at all.
If we live in a country that is prideful of its heritage of religious freedom, why on earth would it matter in this modern day and age if someone is an atheist? Yet the American people are clear on this point—they would not elect an atheist. There is something fundmentally wrong headed about a country founded on the principle of freedom that those who do not believe are somehow "banned" from holding public office in a Jim Crow type of religious intolerance. It is morally wrong, it is unConstitutional, for there is no religious test of office. Except of, when there is.
This implied religious test of office works much like the Jim Crow South. As long as atheists and those of minority faiths "know their place," everything works great. But as soon as an atheist or "other" in this country expresses an opinion publicly, all hell breaks loose. Same for Muslims in this country. What abouta country where being an atheist is even "worse" than being a Muslim? God Bless America!!
Recently Herman Cain, an African American conservative, made it quite plain that he wouldn't have a Muslim in his administration. (I guess he'll have to deal with Keith Ellison D-MN, who is a Muslim, if Cain is elected). The Washington Post noted that the de facto religious test is alive and well with Herman Cain, GOP contender for President in 2012:
On the issue of Muslims serving in public office, every explanation by presidential candidate Herman Cain becomes a complication. In three instances Cain affirmed that Muslims would not be allowed to serve in his or administration. “Many of the Muslims,” he explained, “they’re not totally dedicated to this country.” Cain then amended his remarks to say that, while Muslims would be allowed to serve, they should be subject to “extra precautions” not applied to Catholics or Mormons.
It is unclear what this would mean in practice. Presidential appointees already swear an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. I took mine in 2001 in the East Room of the White House — a solemn and sobering affair. High-ranking officials are subject to an extensive FBI, including the disclosure of every place one has lived and every country one has visited. FBI agents questioned an elderly, frightened woman who had been my neighbor before. She denied ever having laid eyes on me. Cabinet secretaries are given the added scrutiny of a Senate hearing, based on endless pages of intrusive, written questions.
Herman Cain has apparently forgotten what the struggle for civil rights was like for African Americans in this country as recently as the 1960s. He is not afraid to deny rights to Muslims because he believes they are basically "unAmerican" in a very McCarthyistic sense. It wasn't long ago that African Americans weren't allowed to vote because the government considered them not even a whole person. Herman Cain's reaction to Muslims can only be a parroting of the GOP's continuing bigotry against Muslims and people of minority faiths. The Post continues:
“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trustunder the United States.” After Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed this language at the Constitutional Convention, a delegate to North Carolina’s ratifying convention objected that it would allow “pagans, deists and Mahometans” to seek office. It was ratified anyway — even though many state constitutions at the time contained religious tests. In urging ratification, James Madison dismissed these state restrictions as “less carefully and properly defined” than the federal document. Government service, he argued, should be “open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith.”Imposing a modern religious test is neither likely nor defensible. It is remarkable that any liberal advocate of an evolving Constitution should wish it to evolve in this way. It is equally inexplicable that any conservativeof constitutionalism should advocate so clear a violation of the Constitution itself.
The whole enterprise of redefining the ground rules for participation in public life in order to encourage suspicion of one faith or group is highly questionable. It is just the type of power play that the Founders aimed to prevent. For them, loyalty to the Constitution was sufficient — and any religious demand beyond it, illegitimate.
The Mormons are not exempt from American suspicion either, although they fare better than atheists. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are both Mormon Presidential candidates. Yet Politico states as of yesterday:
It's unsettling news: One in five voters would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president, according to a new Gallup Poll.
Doesn't the Constitution say, in Article VI, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States"?
Didn't John F. Kennedy eloquently set down the right approach in his famous 1960 speech to the Houston Ministerial Association? "If this election is decided," Kennedy said, "on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser."
Responsible politicians wouldn’t fawn over an unhinged activist who opposes civil rights and religious freedom for minorities, wants to make being gay a crime and decries his personal rivals as enemies of God, right? But that is exactly what is taking place today in the Republican Party, as likely and declared GOP presidential candidates line up to win the approval of Bryan Fischer, a radio talk show host and spokesman for the American Family Association.
Fischer’s unabashed bigotry is on full display throughout his writings and on-air rants. His entire career is based on leveling venomous attacks against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans,and other individuals and groups he detests. He wants to redefine the Constitution to protect only Christians, persecute and deport all American Muslims, prohibit gays and non-Christians from holding public office and impose a system of biblical law.