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Testing for Religion

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"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

-The United States Constitution

Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican Brain
Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican Brain
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The members of the Republican party may want the voters to believe that the country was founded as a Christian nation (or if they are feeling generous, a "Judeo-Christian nation"), but this view was not unanimously shared by the Founding Fathers. For example, the Constitution specifically prohibits a religious test for "any office or public trust." Religious freedom was further expanded with the passage of the First Amendment, which prohibited Congress from making laws "respecting an establishment of religion" and building what Thomas Jefferson called "a wall of separation between Church and State." In 1797 the Senate ratified and President John Adams signed a treaty between the United States and Tripoli that stated "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded in the Christian Religion."

Ben Carson missed these lessons in history class. When asked on Meet the Press in August, "Does the Bible have authority over the constitution," he could not "answer that question other than out of very specific contexts," leaving the impression that he believes that there are circumstances where the Bible should trump the country's governing document. While his website possibly acknowledges our country's freedom of religion by awkwardly stating that "the First Amendment enshrines our freedom to practice whatever faith we choose from any government intrusion [sic]," he stated last weekend that he does not "believe that Islam is consistent with the constitution." He went on to say that he "would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. [He] would absolutely would not agree with that." The President should be "sworn in on a stack of Bibles, not a Koran."

When an elected clerk in Kentucky refused to do her job because she is among the "substantial numbers of people who actually believe in the traditional definition of marriage" based on their religious views, Carson said that "jail seems a little extreme" of a punishment and that the Congress needs to enact legislation to "protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans." However, to explain away his Islamophobia, Carson states that "Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that's inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution." Somehow he does not feel that this incompatibility applies to Davis and her Christian beliefs.

Carson has a lot of company in his beliefs as polls show that approximately 45 percent of Americans are less likely to vote for someone who is Muslim. Only atheists ranked lower in the eyes of the public. Fortunately, for those outside the mainstream, our system of government has placed protections for the minority. While Carson thinks that "Congress should simply fire any judge in the federal system whose rulings on the constitutionality of a particular law, or lack thereof, disagree with the majority view of whomever[sic] happens to be in control of Congress," this is not how our system of checks and balances works. He really should have paid attention in his Social Studies classes.

While we tell our children that, if they work hard they can be whatever they want, even President, the truth is that for many groups, including women, they have never seen one of their own in the Oval Office. Leading up to the 2008 election, I did not think that the country would elect a man of color as President, but I was happy to be proven wrong. I can only hope that it will not be too long before those who do not think the same as the majority know that their beliefs, or lack of beliefs, do not disqualify them from leading the country.


I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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