By Bryan Fischer
Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at “Focal Point”
In the wake of the dustup over Governor Mitt Romney’s non-orthodox Mormon faith, some misguided commentators, even on the right, have been fretting that even raising theological questions about a candidate is inappropriate and even unconstitutional, a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against the application of a religious test for public office.
They could not be more wrong.
The Religious Test clause in the Constitution (Article VI, Clause 3) reads as follows:
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 as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
As to the meaning of the clause in bold-face, Eugene Volokh writes, “My sense is that it was primarily focused on laws or official government policies — which had existed in England — that required people to swear that they belonged (or didn’t belong) to one or another religious group.”
It’s critical to note that states are not restricted in any way by the Religious Test clause, only the federal government. Every public official at both the state and federal level is required to take an oath to support the Constitution, but only the federal government is prohibited from requiring an additional religious oath. States are constitutionally permitted to require any religious test they want. And at the time of the Founding, many did, requiring legislators to swear on oath affirmations of faith and religious conviction of one kind or another.
For example, you couldn’t be seated in the Pennsylvania legislature at the time of the Founding without taking the following oath: “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 acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.”
So while states could - and still can, for that matter - require oaths of religious affirmation, the federal government cannot.
This was likely due to the pragmatic difficulty of crafting a religious test to which all the Framers could agree, rather than to the inappropriateness of the test itself. Besides, if states were using religious tests, then religious screening of public officials would have already been taken care of at the state level.
But notice very clearly: while the federal government cannot use a religious test to screen candidates for public office, the people who go to the polls certainly can. The federal government cannot use a religious test, but voters can, and they should.
Let’s be done with the nonsense that asking questions about a candidate’s faith is inappropriate. It certainly is not. In fact, in some ways, the faith questions are the most important, because they go right to the issue of a man’s most deeply held convictions and values.
We need to know what those values are, because we are prepared to hand over to him enormous power to implement policies that will impact virtually every detail of of our lives, including policies on abortion, marriage, and sexuality in the military. We need to know what value system is driving him at the deepest level. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to seek to know all we can about a candidate’s moral and religious values.
I wrote yesterday that it would be smart of the American people to insist that our next president fit the profile of the Founders. The first two parts of that profile are a sincere belief in Christian orthodoxy and a sincere belief in a Creator rather than in evolution.
A president may be eligible for the presidency without passing a religious test from the federal government. But voters will have a religious test of their own, and whether a candidate passes that test may determine whether he makes to the White House. The Constitution determines who’s eligible for the Oval Office, but voters determine who’s qualified.
(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.)