Tests, No; Questions, Yes: When Are a Candidates Religious Beliefs Relevant?

By Luckey, Eric | Commonweal, February 9, 2018 | Go to article overview

Tests, No; Questions, Yes: When Are a Candidates Religious Beliefs Relevant?


Luckey, Eric, Commonweal


As our political institutions creak under the weight of the Trump presidency, the American public has reexamined some of the hidden joists in our constitutional architecture. Examples abound. The word "emolument" has reentered the public lexicon, as Americans argue about whether or not President Trump has violated prohibitions against profiting from public office. There's been talk of invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment, removing Trump from the presidency under the premise that he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." The constitutionality of Trump's travel ban continues to be tested in the courts. And lurking behind it all, of course, is the ongoing investigation into his campaign's dealings with Russia--we might soon be debating whether Trump can pardon himself.

But it's not just Trump who's sparking constitutional controversies. Last summer, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was accused of violating the Constitution's clumsily titled "no religious-test clause." The infrequently invoked rule--Article VI clause 3, to be precise--stipulates that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust in the United States." In a heated exchange with Russell Vought, Trump's pick to fill the position of deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sanders appeared to violate the Article VI rule by implying that Vought's religious beliefs--he's an Evangelical Christian--disqualified him from public office.

Sanders was troubled by the language in a 2016 blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims "have a deficient theology" and "stand condemned." Uninterested in the theological argument Vought was making about the exclusivity of Christianity, Sanders claimed that Vought's beliefs called into question his ability to serve the entire American public--and especially Muslim-Americans--with equal tolerance and respect.

Sanders's comments sparked a fair amount of public backlash. Numerous commentators across the political spectrum labeled his criticism of Vought an unconstitutional religious test. And on the Friday before Congress's Fourth of July recess, sixty-four Republican lawmakers jumped into the debate. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they asked him to "make clear" that "no religious test will ever be required to serve in the government of the United States."

For the Religious Right, this latest dustup will undoubtedly make for great campaign fodder. (The Family Research Council, founded by James Dobson, has already produced an ad warning its conservative Christian audience that, "In Bernie Sanders's America, he condemns you as unfit for public service.") But the public outrage is unlikely to lead to any formal rebuke or legal action. Though Sanders's actions were widely criticized, there is no legal mechanism to challenge his motives. Unless we want to open every legislative decision to legal scrutiny, representatives can vote against a nominee for any reason he or she sees fit, religious or otherwise.

Still, the public reaction to Vought's nomination hearing reveals the power of the Article VI rule in principle. Central to the American origin story, Article VI stands as proof and assurance that America is a nation founded on the doctrine of religious freedom. Though legally limited, perhaps, the clause's symbolic and political meaning still resonates.

It's important to note that, despite the deference owed to Article VI, Sanders has his public backers as well. Russell Vought's religious beliefs can tell us an awful lot about what kind of public servant he'll be, they insist. As we evaluate candidates' moral fitness for public office, they argue, taking into account their religious values is not just legal; it's necessary.

This debate over the constitutionality of Senator Sanders's "religious test" is, historically speaking, nothing new. For generations, Americans have disputed to what extent religion should be relevant in the voting booth. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Tests, No; Questions, Yes: When Are a Candidates Religious Beliefs Relevant?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.