Politics Wednesday – No Religious Test

The right wing nut jobs always fall back on the Constitution to bolster their specious arguments. Some, in fact, consider it handed down from God, though the word “god” appears nowhere in it. You’d think God would have cleared up any future debate about the alleged sanctity of the Constitution by dropping his name a time or two.

Unless you’re a constitutional lawyer (like President Obama) or a nerdy political scientist (like Rachel Maddow), you’ve probably never delved past the Constitution’s Preamble (“We the People…”) or the Bill of Rights. There is an obscure clause–obscure only the the RWNJ’s chose to ignore it–about something called “a religious test.” The Founding Fathers, believe it or not, were fed up with Anglicans’ having a chokehold on political jobs. Anglicanism was the State religion of England, after all. Virginia’s statute on religious freedom, written by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, was to support Baptist congregations the state’s Anglican-laden government had thrown into jail for not being Anglican.

The Founders embraced that Jeffersonian principle of freedom of religion in the First Amendment, but they also wanted to make certain that no single religion would dominate the government they were creating. Tucked away in Article VI, paragraph 3, is this gem:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and 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 [emphasis added] as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

I’ve blogged about this before, when a poll showed one in five Republicans believed President Obama was a Muslim. Somehow, in their minds, that deemed him ineligible to be President because he wasn’t Christian. Certain evangelicals make the same argument today about Willard Romney’s Mormonism, but Article VI applies in his case as well. We had the argument fifty years ago when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for President. The argument then was his top allegiance was to the Pope, not to the Constitution.

The fact that the Founders put the religious test prohibition in the main body of the Constitution testifies to the importance in which they held. They truly envisioned an egalitarian society (for landed, white men, of course; unfortunately, they were men of their time) and wanted to make certain there was no Anglican takeover of the newly minted U.S. Government.

Because the economy is clawing its way from the abyss the Republicans put it in, and on President Obama’s watch, the RWNJ’s have to disinter the rotting corpse of The Question of the President’s Religion. Franklin Graham, an apple that fell miles from the tree, did a rant this week about being born Muslim. If your father is Muslim (the President’s father was), when you’re born, you’re a Muslim. Franklin, who, as a missionary evangelical, preaches the only way you can be saved is by converting to Christianity, apparently feels that’s not the case when the son of a Muslim accepts Christ as his personal savior, gets married in a Christian ceremony, and talks about his Christian faith far more often than I like. Franklin must think “Muslim blood” is really powerful, if his God’s omnipotence can’t overcome it.

And I say, if that’s true, if a parent’s religion makes you that religion at birth, so what? Much like Romney’s Mormonism, a person’s religion–or lack thereof–cannot disqualify them from office.

Oh my Holy Lord, you say, that means a Devil Worshiper could become President!

Technically, yes, but Devil Worshipers don’t have much interest in politics, I would think. Selling their souls and pleasing their Dark Lord are probably more important to them.

Oh my Holy Lord, you again say, that means a, gasp, atheist could become President!

Indeed. You’ve already had a couple of those. They’re called Deists, the “religion” of many of the Founding Fathers, several of whom became President. Trust me, if you’d called Jefferson a Christian, he would have brought out his copy of “Jefferson’s Bible” and showed you where he’d removed all reference to myth. It was a very slim volume.

We have to stop judging people by their religion or their lack of religion. I’ve known some theists who were the vilest human beings you’d ever not want to meet, and I’ve known atheists who were the kindest, most “christian” people I’ve ever known. And vice versa, of course. We need to assess our Presidents and Presidential candidates on their merits, their position on issues, and not how or whom they worship.

Franklin Graham needs to come to grips with the fact he’ll never be his father, who is a humble and forgiving man who acknowledged the times he was wrong, like about segregation. Re-bury that question of the President’s religion and focus on jobs, the economy, the environment, equal rights–you know, things “We the People” are concerned about.

—————

For a good understanding of just what four, key Founding Fathers believed or didn’t, read Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty by Steven Waldman. It will change your mind, if it’s open, about several Founders and clear the RWNJ mythology away from history.

One thought on “Politics Wednesday – No Religious Test

  1. It scares me that it is 2012, and yet we still can’t seem to get this separation of church and state down.

    Thanks for a great post. Always look forward to your Politics Wednesday 🙂

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