When taking the oath of office the person chosen for President of the United States will solemnly swear to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since I’m a registered voter I imagine that Ben Carson wants me to believe that, unlike Barack Obama, he will take that oath “without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” For, unlike Obama, Dr. Carson hasn’t made public statements suggesting that the limits and constraints the Constitution imposes on the U.S. Government result from an outmoded understanding that wrongly inhibits the goodies government can provide.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of Constitutional statesmanship, Dr. Carson’s response to a question about whether he would want a Muslim to be President of the United States was ill-considered. He said “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” Yet “calling it a ‘different story’” Dr. Carson went on to say that he would consider a Muslim candidate for Congress. In this respect he, said, “If there’s somebody who’s of any faith, but they say things, and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed and be in peace and harmony, then I’m with them.”
That touchy, feely rhetoric may or may not distract voters from the simple fact that Dr. Carson, who will, if elected, take an oath to support the U.S. Constitution, “absolutely would not agree” with the plainly stated prohibition made clear in Article VI: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That language makes no exception for the Presidency.
Apparently Dr. Carson will take the oath of office with a strong mental reservation about this provision of the Constitution.
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Apparently, as President, he will make his appointments to offices or public trusts under the United States with a disposition to apply criteria nowhere contained in the U.S Constitution, while ignoring the prohibition explicitly stated therein. Of course, he may see some distinction between what he believes as an individual person, and what he will be obliged to do as President, but the U.S. Constitution explicitly rejects that distinction as well.
The Executive power of the U.S. government is vested in a person not in some abstractly conceived “office” or institution. That person is therefore personally responsible for the use and abuse of that power. Isn’t that why, for twenty-four hours in every day that person is properly called Mr. President, even by close friends and associates? The responsibility never lapses, so the title is always appropriate. But for that very same reason, the personal disposition of the individual called to that responsibility must always be informed by the provisions of the Constitution. In a sense, the President is supposed always to act as the incarnation of its words, never as an individual without regard for them.
So when asked about the prospect of a Muslim President, Dr. Carson should have, first of all, reminded everyone of the Constitution’s words. He should have made it clear that no one is to be barred from any office or public trust in the U. S. government on the basis of a religious test, much less a religious label unsubstantiated by any test. He should then have made it clear that the proper test is the one the Constitution requires of every government official, which is a solemn oath or affirmation to preserve protect and defend the Constitution.
Unfortunately, by failing to make reference to the Constitution’s provisions, Dr. Carson himself fails the test the Constitution requires. In this respect, it is vital that we consider the root meaning of the word “preserve”. It refers to making preparations for service before that service is required, much as an athlete or a soldier prepares for the contest before it actually begins. Dr. Carson’s response is evidence of the fact that he is not disposed to preserve the Constitution, since in the run up to the election for office he is not letting the provisions of the Constitution of the United States inform and (as need be) transform his personal constitution so that his words and actions preserve the Constitution of the United States, as the oath of office he must take will require him to do.
The significance of this failure can hardly be overstated. At any moment, a dire emergency can and will emerge that plunges the United States into some deep and warlike crisis, including of course, war itself. In times of crisis, the excuse of necessity can and will prevail over situations in which there is no choice but between honoring a Constitutional provision in the breach, or surrendering in defeat to circumstances in which the Constitution will be honored no more forever. Every U.S. President may face such a crisis. Every wartime President has faced them, over and over again.
In those instances, such Presidents become the focal point for the very existence of the nation. Its survival literally depends on what they do. If their action breaches the integrity of the U.S. Constitution, they must answer for it. But as you read those last words, ponder their meaning. Consider the fact that in the moment the breach occurs, the President’s position as Commander-in-Chief calls for obedience from those under Presidential command, whatever their own reservations. They must act to save the nation, even if and when they are convinced that doing so breaches the integrity of the Constitution. For that breach, the President will answer to the people, through their representative in Congress, assuming that the nation survives the crisis.
But what if the crisis is so prolonged that it involves, implicitly, the substitution of martial law (which is military tyranny) for the Supreme law of the Land? Just as the constitution of our individual bodies must sometimes endure damaging hardship and privation in order to survive a crisis, so the body politic may suffer damage. In that event, for the duration of the crisis, the nation has to trust in the personal constitution of the President of the United States to remember and preserve insofar as humanly possible, all that informs and animates the body politic, in fact, purpose and intention. Thus what is honored in the breach will survive in spirit, so that when the moment of decision is reached and passed, the nation can be brought back to itself intact, and perhaps even with its spirit strengthened and renewed.
But how can we entrust an individual with the responsibility thus to remember and conserve our Constitution when, before assuming the office of President they have proven themselves to be indifferently disposed to remember and preserve its plainly written provisions? I have in the past made it clear that Dr. Carson’s indifference to the nation’s founding premises (on grounds of so-called “pragmatism”) prevents me from supporting him, or anyone like him, for President of the United States. Now that indifference to principle bears its bad fruit, as he fails to show proper respect for the provision that forever forbids requiring a religious test for any office or public trust under the U.S. Government.
I think the Constitutional provision is right. It does not apply a religious test or label for political office, and neither should we. I now strongly advocate for Christians to gather in the name of Christ as they organize and act as citizens. I believe that, given the present degradation of the political process, nothing else will save America’s liberty. But I do so knowing that, in satisfying the standard of Christ, we honor the standards and premises that inform the U.S. Constitution, beginning with the standard of God-endowed unalienable right that has guided the spirit of the American people since the nation first began.
For, as the Apostle Paul made clear (Romans 2:15), even among people without Biblical faith there are those who “do by nature the things contained in the law…which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness…” In our time, such people may be labeled Muslims, or Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or even people without any religion. But if in their lives they prove themselves to be people of good conscience, America is defined and united as a nation by the promise to make them secure in the activities that result from their willingness to follow God’s prescription. As for those who reject the promptings of their God endowed good conscience, any wicked activities they undertake should be fought until they are overthrown, no matter what label — religious or otherwise — they use to mask their crimes.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.