Are Politicians Asking Voters to Test Their Religion?
Even though the U.S. Constitution explicitly forbids the requirement of any “religious test” for public office, it seems that many politicians today are asking, some demanding, the public to judge their religiosity.
This “no religious test” clause was meant to protect people being unfairly barred from holding office if they were a religious minority, as Jews and Catholics were in early America.
If this law was to protect politicians, why would they want us to break it? Because they understand that they need to be tested on something, and if you want to pass a test, the religious test is pretty easy. It requires little depth to quote the Bible or say “Amen” at the end of sentences. When politicians get quizzed on fiscal policy, foreign affairs, or perhaps even Paul Revere’s midnight ride, they are much more likely to get a failing grade. These are difficult subjects and there are varied opinions on them (with the exception of Paul Revere’s midnight ride). Since the U.S. population is majority Christian, many politicians have realized that Jesus is something on which a large number of people agree. Therefore, many would rather have their constituents know about their life changing, religious revelation than their plan to raise taxes or cut popular programs.
When we look at Texas Governor Rick Perry, he claims,
Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters.
This is true, and we look to our leaders to solve these problems. Perry counters this obvious assumption with,
As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus,
Some problems are beyond our power to solve.
His religious grandstanding attempts to get him off the hook for this multitude of problems without him actually having to do anything at all.
Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn), who has announced she is running for president in 2012, said in Iowa,
[T]hrough prayer I knew that I was to introduce the marriage amendment in Minnesota,
and that she has a “calling” to run for president. The implicit points of these types of statements are God is on my side, so you should be, too and God wants me to run! These expressions almost cross into antinomianism if she truly believes them, a dangerous line that should not be crossed, especially by people with such great power.
We should be wary of this antinomianism and god-soaked rhetoric as we have already seen a terrifying consequence of it this past decade in former president George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. In June 2003, he claimed he was on a mission from God. No secular leader should be on a mission from any god, and Bush’s claim in no way justifies his policy.
Voters should test their leaders on policies and demand substantive answers instead of allowing candidates to pander to the lowest common denominator. Understand that we are electing secular officials, not a reverend for their church. As Republican Mitt Romney stated earlier this week,
I'm not here in a religious context, I'm here as a candidate for president, and as a candidate for president or as a president I have to represent the interests of all the people.
Religious beliefs are not to be equated with policy beliefs because it is a public official’s legislation that can be turned into law and not their personal religious beliefs. Governing is difficult and requires higher marks than those that one scores when simply mentioning The Almighty or talking about their personal salvation.
We let candidates get away with the pandering, because, let’s face it, we aren’t policy experts either. It is easier to vote for a person instead of vote for policy. Let’s not take the easy way out, however. Demand depth from candidates, and then use it.
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