Ben Carson has been in hot water since his comments on Meet the Press Sunday morning in which he said he does not think we should make a Muslim president. He does not, he said, think that Islam is consistent with the Constitution. The obvious response to Carson is that the Constitution makes it clear that there should be no religious test for office. This is the response that Carly Fiorina, the declared winner of the second GOP debate last week, offered on The Tonight Show Monday night. But there’s one significant problem with Fiorina’s understanding of the Constitution on this matter. While she says that she would be fine with a Muslim as President, she would seem to impose a religious test for office if a person were not a “person of faith.”
It says in our Constitution that religion cannot be a test for office. It is also true that this country was founded on the principle that we judge each individual and that anyone of any faith is welcome here. I actually believe that people of faith make better leaders whether they’re Christians as I am — my faith has sustained me through some very bad times. I’ve battled cancer, I’ve lost a child, I’ve been tested. But whether it’s a person of Christian faith or Jewish faith or Muslim faith or other faiths, I think faith gives us humility and empathy and optimism, and I think those are important things.
Apparently for Fiorina “no religious test” means that anyone who is “religious” or has “faith” is fit to be President while those who are not “religious” and do not have “faith” are not. She believes that “people of faith make better leaders,” but we can’t really be sure can we? Our electorate has been imposing religious tests of various stripes since our country’s beginning it seems. If on they were some way to compare the leadership of a “religious” president and a “non-religious” president. Alas, I guess we’ll never know.
While Fiorina may have her preferences, which unsurprisingly suggest that someone like her would make the best leader, Article 6 of the Constitution is quite clear on this question:
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.
I would say that I am disappointed by Fiorina’s response, but I’ve come to expect such from those in power. After all, when so many GOP candidates don’t seem to realize that Kim Davis is not being persecuted by not being allowed to force her religious beliefs onto other citizens, that some would read Article 6 conveniently is not a surprise. That she is being lauded for standing up to Ben Carson on this, while quietly slipping in her own religious test for office, is an indictment of Jimmy Fallon who let her response go with no pushback and on the rest of the media that has completely missed this.
As I wrote after the first GOP Debate, of which God was the big winner by the way, Article 6 lacks significance. It will continue to as long as we allow the power of “faith” in this country — particularly of the “Christian” variety — to render itself invisible, or to be seen as simply “patriotic and ceremonial.” Again, this is what we should expect. For power is most successful when it is conceived of as “natural,” or “just the way things are.” We have come a long way since JFK was questioned about his perceived allegiance to the Catholic Church, but we still have a long ways to go. At a time when more than half of our country would be less likely to vote for an atheist for President, this is an easy way in which our self-annointed leaders could, you know, maybe possibly sort of lead.
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