By Bryan Fischer
Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at “Focal Point”
I have great respect for Ken Starr as a Christian and as a legal expert.
However, in a column published in today’s Washington Post, he gets things wretchedly wrong from a constitutional standpoint.
In his column he correctly points out that the Constitution, in Article VI, flatly prohibits a religious test for federal office. “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (Note: “ the United States” is a reference to the federal or central government.)
Here is the central paragraph in Starr’s column:
“[T]he 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia made it absolutely clear that no religious test should ever be imposed to hold office. The Founders also made clear that religious dissenters (such as the Quakers) should not be compelled to take an oath if doing so would be a violation of conscience. Building on those twin pillars of tolerance, the Supreme Court at its finest moments has likewise vigorously defended the right of all persons to participate in the democratic process, including holding office, without the burden of religious tests or qualifications.”
The problem here is that Starr applies this restriction not to the federal government to but voters. The title of his column gives it away: “Can I vote for a Mormon?” Starr essentially accuses people of sincere Christian faith who are troubled by Mormonism of doing something unAmerican and unconstitutional. Shame on him.
Says Starrr, “[V]oters should proceed to cast their ballot on the basis of the candidate’s qualifications, platform and policy positions — not the candidate’s membership (or lack thereof) in a particular faith community.”
The constitutional point here, that Starr inexcusably misses, is that the restriction found in the Constitution is placed on the federal government, not on the people.
So while the federal government is prohibited from applying a religious test for federal office, there is absolutely no restriction placed on voters. Voters are free to apply any religious test they want.
In fact, there is no constitutional restriction even on states. States were and are even today free to apply any religious tests they want. Lawmakers in early Pennsylvania, for instance, were required to affirm the divine inspiration of the entire Bible before they were allowed to be seated as legislators. The restriction in Article VI is exclusively a restriction on the federal government, not voters, and not even on states.
The Founders would be horrified at Starr’s insinuation that there would be something unseemly about using faith as a yardstick in evaluating fitness for public office.
Surely Starr knows this, and that’s what makes his column so bad. Faith-based voters who use their deeply held religious values as a basis for screening candidates are here being accused - in a not-so-subtle fashion - of doing something unconstitutional and un-American.
Starr ought to be ashamed of himself for infringing in this way on religious liberty. Whatever else the First Amendment means by the “free exercise” of religion, the very least it includes is the absolute right to use religious convictions as a guide in deciding for whom to vote. For Starr to cast aspersions on this constitutionally protected right is certainly beneath him and reflects a surprising legal blindness on his part.
Who knew that a salvo in the war against Christianity would be launched by somebody on our own team? This is the worst kind of friendly fire.
The mistake that Starr and all other evangelicals in the Romney camp are making is this: while they may be able to guilt-trip Christians into not raising questions about Romney’s Mormonism now, that trick won’t work on the mainstream media.
If Romney gets the nomination, aided and abetted by Christians who pull their theological punches during the GOP primary, all we will hear about from outlets like the New York Times and the major networks will be repeated recitations of the more unusual things Mormons believe.
The mainstream media will highlight that Mormons believe that God lives near the planet Kolob, that there is not only a heavenly Father but a Heavenly Mother, with whom the Heavenly Father is procreating spirit children, that Jesus and Satan are brothers, that God used to be a man just like we are, that Mormon wives cannot enter heaven unless their husbands summon them from the grave, that native American nations are the lost ten tribes of Israel, that Jesus will return not to Jerusalem but to Independence, Missouri and so forth.
The time to air these issues and discuss their relative significance is now, during the Republican primary. There is no reason other than politically correct squeamishness for these matters not to be raised and evaluated right now.
Many voters will decide these theological quirks are immaterial to them. Others will be surprised to learn what the Mormon church teaches, and it will raise questions in their minds about Gov. Romney’s judgment. All that is fine. That’s how open elections and vigorous public debate work.
But social conservatives need to realize that the mainstream media has declared only a temporary truce on Romney. They are taking it easy on Romney right now over the quirkier things about Momonism, a delicateness they made no effort to show Michele Bachmann when they wanted to hammer her into insignificance over the issue of submission in marriage.
It would be a grave mistake for conservatives to think that the media is being kind, tolerant and magnanimous to Romney over issues pertaining to his faith. They are giving him a pass now, and in fact criticizing those who raise questions about his faith, because they, as Ministers of Propaganda for the Regime, want him to be Obama’s opponent. They know that Romney will be the easiest GOP candidate for Obama to neutralize.
But If Romney gets the nomination, the media will be absolutely vicious in coming after him, and they won’t be deterred by political correctness or the Constitution or notions of common decency.
There is absolutely no reason not to have a thorough discussion now about LDS theology and what it would mean to have a president who sincerely believes its precepts. Maybe voters would conclude such things are irrelevant, maybe they wouldn’t. But the discussion will take place, either now, managed by conservatives, or later, driven by the Media Committee to Re-elect the President. That will not be a pretty sight.
(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.)