“…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” – Article VI of the U.S. Constitution
But the U.S. Constitution did not get in the way of senators who oppose a Christian nominee for political appointment based on his beliefs!
“I understand that Christianity is the majority religion. But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?” – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Those words were addressed to Russell Vought, President Donald Trump’s pick for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Sanders repeatedly challenged Vought’s beliefs and (therefore) his qualification to serve in public office.
It didn’t matter that Vought responded, “As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their religious beliefs,” and “I believe that as a Christian, that’s how I should treat all individuals…” Actually, these words convey a higher view of the dignity of humans (such dignity being imbedded in the nature and work of God) than the secularist Sanders’ philosophical system would embrace, but that didn’t matter to Sanders, who labeled Vought’s belief that salvation is only through Jesus Christ* as “indefensible…hateful…Islamophobic… an insult” to Muslims everywhere.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union took the wrong position and sided with Sanders, issuing a statement that Vought’s opinion about Muslim theology is a threat to religious freedom.
But defenders of religious liberty should side with Vought instead. What counts is not what he believes about salvation in the hereafter, but how he treats people and would do his job in the here and now.
Thomas Jefferson said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” (Notes on Virginia, 1782). Jefferson believed that one’s doctrines are beyond the judgment of government: “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.”
In fact, Jefferson believed that the “wall of separation” between church and state guaranteed freedom to believe as one wills. (see: “Letter to Danbury Baptist Association”, January 1, 1802)
Rather than debating a nominee’s doctrines, Mr. Sanders and other legislators* should defend nominee’s constitutional rights and not make religion a test for political office, regardless of how odious their beliefs appear to be in the eyes of critics.
Nothing is gained in politics or in civil discourse by either airbrushing religious differences or excluding one another from public service over them.
* “Salvation only through Jesus Christ” is a core belief of Evangelical Christianity. Secular inclusivism regards this as heresy and insists on generic notions of religion that make no judgments on ultimate issues like salvation.
With regard to this being an “insult” to Muslims, I know of no feeling of insult on the part of the Muslims I interact with in my role as a member of the Long Beach-area clergy. This assumes that both they and I understand the nature of religious pluralism.
* Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) chimed in: “I’m a Christian, but part of being a Christian, in my view, is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God…” The senator should stay in his proper sphere and not pretend to be a theologian.