March 18, 2011 by: David Rosman Columbia, MO
The 2011-12 political seasons have started and I am reminded of Paul Simon’s Me and Julio down by the schoolyard. “It’s against the law. It was against the law. What mama saw, it was against the law.”
Article VI Clause 3 of our Constitution says “… but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy told the Huston Ministerial Conference in 1960 that his Catholicism should not be considered as a qualification or an impairment of his ability to be President of the United States.
In 1983 his brother Senator Edward Kennedy, in a presentation to Liberty Baptist College (Liberty University), said that the separation of church and state was a priority for the Founders who all lived through the horrors of a theocratic monarchy.
2010 presidential candidate Mitt Romney had to prove that his Mormon faith was not contrary to Christian beliefs to gain votes from Christian-conservative voters.
In my home town, as in many others throughout the United States, a School Board candidate is claiming that her qualifications for the job are her “Christian, conservative values.” She has the education and work experience to otherwise hold the most local of all elected positions in government. Yet she believes that her faith out trumps her knowledge and ability.
Faith, especially Christian faith, has become a key tactic of political campaigning. It is not a new phenomenon; one only needs to look at the presidential election of 1800 between Adams and Jefferson. “Vote for John Adams for his Christian values” versus “Thomas Jefferson will bring atheism to the Presidency.”
Praising God, asking for God’s blessings, looking towards the heavens for aid to defeat the opposition has become a standard. And it is not limited to the Republican or Tea Party candidates. It is coming from all concerns of the room, extremes left and right, and from those in the middle. But why?
I first realized this unfortunate situation when I lived in Denver, Colorado, watching the growth of the religious right in Colorado Springs. The home to the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the United States Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, the Springs is a very conservative town. It also houses some of the largest Christian-based non-profits in the United States, including Focus on the Family. This combination gave power to the most recent resurrection of the Christian-conservative political movement that Rev. Jerry Farwell’s Moral Majority birthed.
A recent, very unscientific poll asked the question, “Can an atheist win a U.S. congressional race?” was met with an overwhelming “No!” Not only from those of faith, but by the atheist community as well. Catholics, Jews, Muslim and Mormons faired a bit better.
But isn’t the emphasis of ones personal religious belief contrary to the Constitution of the United States? Are candidates violating Article VI, clause 3 that emphasizes no religious test for holding any public office, federal or local, by making their religion a primary reason for the award of your vote? Even as a second or tertiary reason?
I asked the people who defended the Constitution, the attorneys and law professors. The question was “Should candidates refrain from such pronunciations, should they not claim any religious affiliation unless directly asked, and even then should there be a required disclaimer that one’s religion is not a qualifier for an elected or appointed government post?”
The answer came quickly. The question of whether the letter of the law is being violated is up in the air. However, the spirit of the law does come into question. The purpose of this type of campaign is to make a distinction between the candidates. It is designed to force the other candidates to stress their own religious beliefs, affiliations and practices. Distinction based on religion forces the voter to question their own religious beliefs versus their political position in the voting booth, thus forcing religion to be a qualifier for an office of public trust.
The stressing of one’s religion appears to be contrary to the spirit of the constitutional demand for a secular government.
It is time that we force the candidates who adopt this tactic, who believe that their faith is stronger than their ability to govern, who want to force the issue of religion on the voters, to stop this practice. It does not matter if that person is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist. This practice must stop and it must stop now.
David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and New York Journal of Books.com.
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