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Enough already of religious tests for public officials

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  • Enough already of religious tests for public officials

    Religious tests for public office: enough already

    By Leo Sandon


    Enough already of religious tests for public office

    Before we close discussion of the debacle over Harriet Miers' Supreme Court nomination, one aspect of that story merits further reflection: religious tests for public office.

    James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and increasingly the leading spokesman for politically mobilized conservative evangelicals, experienced foot-in-mouth problems. He told his extensive radio audience, "When you know some of the things that I know - that I probably shouldn't know - you will understand why I have said with fear and trepidation, that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice." He then added this reference to abortions: "... if I have made a mistake here, I will never forget the blood of those babies that will die will be on my hands to some degree."

    Turns out that Karl Rove, chief political adviser to President Bush, had assured Dobson that Miers was a certified evangelical Christian and a member "of a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life." That was good enough for Dobson. As well as for Charles Colson, founder and chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Jay Sekulow of the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice. They certified her credentials and supported her nomination.

    This strategy of using Miers' religious affiliation in advancing her nomination is extraordinary - even in these days of tight collaboration between the religious right and the Republican Party. To his political base the president was saying: "Trust me. She passed the religious test."

    In the body of the U.S. Constitution, Article VI states, among other things, "... but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Note, please, that this was in the original document, the only direct reference to religion in it. If so-called "originalist" interpreters of the Constitution want an unequivocal example of what the framers of the Constitution meant, they bloody well have it here.

    In 1961 the Supreme Court declared invalid a requirement of the Maryland state constitution that no "religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God." (Italics added.) Even Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas probably accept "no religious tests" as established precedent.

    I'm aware, of course, that any defacto religious test in the nomination and confirmation process is political, not legal, in character. But I don't think my point is too much of a stretch. The boundary between the two realms is not sharply drawn.

    There are stories, for instance, that members of Florida's 15th Judicial Circuit Nominating Committee have asked religious questions of candidates for judicial appointments. The Rev. O'Neal Dozier of Pompano Beach, a member of the nominating committee, is quoted in the Nov. 30, 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel as follows: "This country is founded on the principles of Christianity, not the principles of Buddhism, not the principles of Judaism. I don't believe the developers of the Constitution would want us to compromise our Christian values." So much for the qualifications of former Justices Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter. Or of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Poor Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. might have been a distinguished justice had he not been a religious agnostic

    Quick quiz: What were the religious affiliations of Earl Warren? Potter Stewart? Byron White? Not to worry. Your ignorance is not a problem. There are no religious tests for public officials.

    Not one.

    Leo Sandon is professor emeritus of religion and American studies at Florida State.
    June 9, 1973 - The day athletic perfection was defined.

  • #2
    As long as she passes the test that she's irreligious, it's all good.


    The Church of Irreligion


    • #3
      Turns out that Karl Rove,[/b][/quote]

      whoops, thought he wasn't involved...

      Anyway, weak argument. The religious test isn't for public office, it's for candidacy within a party.
      Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist