Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No Religious Test

US Constitution
"Article VI.
(...)
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."

You would think the words of the Constitution were fairly clear, and as far as laws currently in effect it is, but the spirit of this Article is clearly ignored. It is ignored by elected officials, candidates, the press, Parties, and voters. There were very real concrete reasons this Article was included, far beyond some "la-la land" philosophy of Deists. Just to be very clear, that philosophy was deeply distrustful of organized religion. The violations of the spirit are beyond doubt, not a single current candidate for President has not made their faith a matter of public pronouncement and a measure of qualification for office. Not a single one. No large media that I know of has not made this a matter of reporting and analysis. Parties have established study groups and policy aims groups to address appealing to this issue. Voter analysis shows faith to be a large determinant in vote preference. So, other than the actual issuance of a law, the First Law of the US is obviously ignored.

There are very practical outcomes to ignoring what was obviously intended to not only cover legal restrictions but also to set a tone for behavior. The influence of the Religious Right goes beyond the interests of individual voters when religious organizations vet candidates. The political debate spins out of control when the validity of candidates' faith becomes an issue. What is most disturbing is the effect of having candidates and officials pass pronouncement on religious laws.

The behavior of all participants leads to voter confusion over the role of religion in government and even in the founding of government. The extent of this confusion goes so deep that I found myself in a Letters to Ed debate with an intelligent educated neighbor who had asserted that Thomas Jefferson was a Christian. In order to keep a public embarrassment from occurring I went by his home with a copy of Jefferson's collected writings carefully bookmarked and lent it to him with a recommendation that he go ahead and read the entire thing. Less than a week later a letter of retraction and apology to me appeared in the paper. Citizens are led to believe thing that are factually untrue; regardless of religion or philosophy that is dangerous. While the politicians and religious leaders are engaging in this behavior the Press, with it's inherent implied responsibilities under its 1st Amendment protection, acts as cheerleader. They actually acknowledged the existence of Article VI during the flap about Rep Ellingson's oath of office, and that is the extent to my memory.

Does anybody believe that Mitt Romney's Mormonism would have been attacked if there wasn't a religious test? Or that assertions that ****'s religion is a bastion of ignorance would be made? Or that ...? We have thrown the most unprovable and unverifiable of all human systems into the middle of qualifications to hold public office and damn near everybody gleefully participates. What really really ticks me off is finding that all this public debate and approbation around religion puts me in the position of feeling like I have to defend my friends of varying faiths or non-faiths. This is absolute nonsense in the United States of America.

The most infuriating part of this garbage is what is really the core of the debate; what are the policies of candidates and officials? I don't care if the Supreme Flying Pumpkin advocates universal health care, I want to know if the person in question does. I don't want to know what the candidate thinks the Bible says, I want to know what he proposes to do. Here's a news flash for all you religious debaters, it makes not one particle of difference if a policy comes from the Bible or Koran or the Moon Goddess, the policy itself matters. Unless you are sufficiently ignorant to believe that a person can have no moral and philosophical compass without a particular interpretation of a particular Book the religion question is meaningless. If a person tells you their policies and ethics you are free to believe or disbelieve them and agree or disagree, but trying to hang those on a Religion coat hook is ridiculous.

I've never cared about anything more than a person's character and that character is demonstrated by what they do and what they attempt to do and how they make the attempt. Quite obviously what they say is tied up in all that, but what religion has to do with any of that I am completely mystified by. It is quite possible for a person to have closely reflected the philosophies of a religion without ever practicing or professing that religion. Because person "A's " religion advocates giving to the poor does not mean that person "B" gives to the poor because of it, it simply means that "B" thinks it is a right and proper course of action. It also does not mean that because person "A" professes to belong to a religion which advocates giving to the poor that "A" has anything to do with it. We are engaging in stupidity of the first order and it is exactly what the Constitution was trying to avoid.

3 comments:

Steve Culley said...

You already mentioned Jefferson so I'm not going to dust off my copy of Jefferson's letters. I might mention that those who are surest of what God wants, fundamentalists, come in all religions, Bin laden, for one.

Zak J. said...

True, there's no religious test in the Constitution. There's also no personal grooming requirement. But there are both with the voters. Always have been, always will be. Extraordinary politicians are rare in any system, mostly because they have to at least convey the appearance of keeping the majority of the narrow social mores of their time and place. Glass ceilings of all kinds exist in all places, and there's no civil remedy for people seeing you as an "other" and not being willing to vote for you.

Chuck Butcher said...

What you point out Zak is quite true - at this point in time. Voters are an odd bunch, what they will not even look at now can be right up their alley just a little later.