Hey, Democrats, If You’re Going To Use A Religious Test, Tell Us What It Is

Democrats are riding the religious bigotry wagon at warp speed and aiming it right at anybody who is a faithful Catholic. Kamala Harris and others are taking issue with the president’s nomination of judges who have both Catholicism and the Knights of Columbus (a benign Catholic service organization) in their background.

This is despite the flat prohibition in the Constitution of the use of any kind of “religious test” as a way of determining fitness for public office at the federal level.

For those Democrats who may never have read Article VI in the American Constitution, here it is: “…but no religious Test [sic] shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The reference to the “United States” in the last sentence is a reference to the federal government. The Constitution only binds down the federal government from interference with religious expression. State governments, on the other hand, could (and constitutionally still can) impose any religious test they wished. And at the time of the Founding, almost all of them did. The Constitution of my home state of Idaho prohibited Mormons from serving in the state legislature until the restriction was removed in 1982 (it had long been ignored).

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Massachusetts in 1780 required all lawmakers to make under oath a declaration that “I do believe in the Christian religion.” Maryland (1776) required the same declaration.

A number of states confined public service to members of the Protestant faith. New Hampshire (1784) required all lawmakers to “be of the Protestant religion.” North Carolina (1776), Georgia (1777), and New Jersey (1776) applied the same religious test.

Delaware (1776) went whole hog: “I _______, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, One God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.” Pennsylvania had a similarly expansive religious test which did not require lawmakers to be of any particular “religion,” by which the Founders meant a branch or denomination of Christianity.

All such religious tests were constitutionally permitted at the time, and still are under the Founders’ Constitution (not the one which has been mangled by the courts). Today there are just eight states which still have a religious test for office, and all are pretty bland beyond requiring a generic belief in God.

The point here in all of this is that the Constitution forbids Congress and the federal government from developing and imposing a similar test for public office. Under the Founders’ Constitution, whatever religious screening is to be done is to be done at the state level, and Congress is forbidden – then and now – from intruding on matters of religious expression. All regulation of religious expression, under the Founders’ Constitution, is reserved for the states.

Now of course none of this forbids voters from using whatever religious test they wish to screen candidates, and many do. And Senators are welcome to use their religious convictions as a guide to their vote on nominees. If they think it’s unacceptable for a federal judge to be a committed Roman Catholic, they are welcome to their view and certainly may vote accordingly.

But then they must not criticize senators – or voters such as myself – who would politely decline to vote for a Muslim nominee on similar grounds, namely that the values of the Muslim religion are incompatible with public service in the United States.

Nor should a Kamala Harris criticize members of the Tarrant County Republican Committee who voted to remove a Muslim from his post as vice-chairman. Although the effort to remove the Muslim vice-chairman failed decisively – 139 voted to keep him, 49 to remove (if I’d been there, the vote would have been 139-50) – the primary reservations for those who voted to remove him are that Muslim ideals are incompatible with American ideals, which has the advantage of being absolutely true. (No First Amendment right, not one – not freedom of religion, speech, press, or assembly – is protected under Islam.)

It’s not a theological problem for me to vote for a Roman Catholic. I do not consider it a cult, as many Christians do, because their theology on the person of Christ is orthodox. Antonin Scalia was both a Catholic and the finest jurist America has had in the last century.

And the Knights of Columbus are without a doubt patriots. The first American officer to die in WWI was a Knight, as was the last officer.

Maybe Kamala Harris and I can demonstrate what liberty in America is all about – I’ll respect her right to vote against a Catholic as long as she respects my right to vote against a Muslim. What do you say, Senator Harris?

Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at “Focal Point”

Host of “Focal Point” on American Family Radio, 1:05 pm CT, M-F  www.afr.net

(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.)

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bryan Fischer is the Director of Issue Analysis at the American Family Association. He has degrees from Stanford University and Dallas Theological Seminary. He pastored for 25 years in Idaho, where he served as the chaplain of the Idaho state senate and co-authored Idaho's marriage amendment. He came to AFA in 2009.

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