Carson Did NOT Violate the Religious Test Clause
Ben Carson has taken an enormous amount of heat from the low-information media and low-information Republicans regarding his assertion that he would not under any circumstances support the idea of a Muslim serving as president of the United States. He told Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Carson compounded his problem in the eyes of the self-appointed cultural elites by doubling down when pressed. He told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “We don’t put people at the head of our country whose faith might interfere with them carrying out the duties of the Constitution.”
And of course, Dr. Carson is right. Islamic law flatly rejects every unalienable right enshrined in the First Amendment. Under Sharia law, there is no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom of assembly, and no right to petition the government for the redress of grievances. A Muslim president who was devout in his faith would represent a threat to every fundamental civil liberty that we cherish.
A pro-jihadist group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was predictably outraged. “Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which clearly states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement. “We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum — to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”
The hypocrisy here makes your eyes water and your head hurt. CAIR first slams Carson for imposing a religious test for public office and then immediately imposes one on him and wants him tossed out of public life. They get to have their religious test but nobody else can have theirs. Double standard much?
The complaint that somehow Dr. Carson has violated the prohibition in Article VI of the Constitution against the imposition of a religious test is the silliest and most unconstitutional complaint of them all.
Here’s how Article VI reads: “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
The first thing to observe here is that this is only a restriction on the federal government. It bans the federal government and the federal government only from requiring a candidate for public office to pass a religious test. In other words, only the federal government can violate Article VI. A candidate for public office couldn’t violate Article VI even if he tried. It’s not a restraint on candidates, it’s a restraint on the federal government.
More to the point, it should be observed that the ban on a religious test is a ban on government, not on voters. While the federal government cannot apply a religious test, voters can use any religious test they want to.
If citizens decide not to vote for a Muslim for president because of the obvious incompatibility of Islam with the Constitution, they have every right to do so. Each voter is still entitled to think for himself and to place whatever value he wishes on the spiritual convictions of the various candidates.
It must also be observed that the Article VI restriction applies only to positions in the federal government. It was never intended to ban the use of religious tests at the state level. The phrase “the United States” is an explicit reference to the federal government – the United States – as opposed to the individual States in their individual sovereignty. States are free under the Founders’ Constitution to impose any kind of religious test they want to.
At the time of the Founding, every single one of the individual states had a religious test for public office, and eight states still do today. This is perfectly constitutional, if we’re using the Constitution as crafted by the Founders and not as mangled by the courts.
For instance, in the Pennsylvania constitution drafted by Benjamin Franklin, we find this section:
And each member [of the legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: ‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governour of the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.
In other words, in early Pennsylvania an elected representative was not even allowed to vote on legislation without first affirming his faith in God and his belief in the inspiration of the entire Bible. This kind of religious test is entirely permissible under the Founders’ Constitution.
In Delaware, at the very same time the federal constitution was adopted, things were even worse for our secular fundamentalist friends:
Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust…shall…make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: ‘I ______ do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed forevermore; I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration.
So in Delaware, a man was only allowed to vote on legislation after he first declared under oath that he was a Bible believing Christian.
Thus Article VI did not prohibit all governments from using a religious test; it only prohibited the federal government from using one. Whatever spiritual and religious vetting of public servants was to be done was entrusted to the states and the states alone.
An additional test at the federal level was unnecessary, and would intrude on the right of states to decide, each one for itself, what its standards in this area should be.
Since it was customary for elected officials to begin their run for office at the state level, by the time they were in a position to run for federal office, they would already have been vetted for appropriate religious conviction.
Further, there was the practical matter of finding a religious test on which every state could agree, since each state had its own test and each one was different, even if only slightly, from the the tests in other states.
Bottom line: voters can apply whatever religious test they want to. And when it comes to putting a Muslim in the White House, they should.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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