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The Realpolitik of Article VI: Religious Test Required for Public Office

By       Message Robert Weitzel     Permalink
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“He won my vote when he talked about religion.”

-Candice Collins-


In an October 4 New York Times article, Marc Santora wrote, “The intensified assault by religious leaders poses a central question about Mr. Giuliani’s viability as a Republican presidential candidate and presents him with one of his first big tests on the stump.”

The same day, the New York Times published an editorial by James Dobson of Focus on the Family entitled, “The Values Test,” in which Dobson put both the Republican and Democratic parties on notice that their test—written and proctored by religious conservatives—is fast approaching, “If neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life, we will join others in voting for a minor-party candidate.”

Earlier this year at an “Ask Mitt Anything” forum in Pella, Iowa, Mrs. Van Stennis, a teacher at a local Christian school, asked Mitt Romney where the Bible would be in his decision making as president. “Would it be above the Book of Mormon, or would it be beneath it?” Mr. Romney, affecting his best Jack Kennedy religious tolerance stance, answered, “This is a nation where people come from different faiths, different doctrines, different churches.”

Then tactically, if not disingenuously, he added,  “But, unlike the people we’re fighting over in the Middle East, we don’t have a religious test to say who should be able to run our country. It’s over there where people say, ‘You don’t go to my church, you can’t run our country.’ ”

Had he been less concerned with passing Mrs. Van Stennis’ religion test, he might have added more honestly, “ But as you know, it’s over here where people say, ‘You don’t go to church, you can’t run our country.’”

Contrary to Article VI of the Constitution, which states in part that “ . . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” the realpolitik of American political campaigning is that all candidates for public office must pass a religious test. This is not a “de facto” religious test. It is the real McCoy. But it has become the de facto law of our “Christian nation.”
In a 1981 speech to the U.S. Senate, Barry Goldwater, the archconservative, five-term Republican Senator from Arizona and author of “The Conscience of a Conservative,” alarmed by the encroaching influence of the Christian Right on the Republican Party platform specifically, and on American politics in general, warned his fellow Senators, “The religious factions . . . are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent . . . Just who do they think they are? ? I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.”

Over a quarter of a century later, John McCain, four-term Republican senator from Arizona—Goldwater’s immediate successor—and author of “Faith of My Fathers,” confirmed Goldwater’s prescience and fears in an interview with Dan Gilgoff of BeliefNet. When asked if a presidential candidate’s personal faith has become too big an issue, McCain replied, “I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition . . .’”

Considering McCain was being “quizzed” by a religious web site, one would expect him to mince words to his faith-based, political advantage. But for a U.S. Senator, whose secular “bible” is the Constitution, to then tell Gilgoff and the country, that “ . . .the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation,” is either inexcusable ignorance or plain pandering. Regardless, he just led the Republican Party and the Republic down to the banks of the river Jordan. 

But as Republican candidates squeeze into the revival tent this campaign cycle, they find themselves sitting next to a newly-converted Democratic candidate whose hands are raised in exaltation, albeit, a bit self-consciously.

On a June 4 special religion edition of CNN’s “The Situation Room” featuring Democratic candidates John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, moderator

Soledad O'Brien asked Edwards if he thinks the United States is a Christian nation. 

Edwards’ stumbling attempt to pass his religion test was a veritable glossolalia of fundamentalist God-speak and political correctness, “No, I think this is a nation -- I mean I'm a Christian; there are lots of Christians in United States of America. I mean, I have a deep and abiding love for my Lord, Jesus Christ . . .”

Unlike John McCain who unabashedly rewrote the Constitution for the Christian Right, Edwards’ seemed uncomfortable in his role of Christian apologist, though his hedging answer did contain the virus currently debilitating American politics—the mistaken notion that since there is a preponderance of Christians living in the United States, we are a Christian nation.

To appreciate how wrong-headed this notion is, imagine a white politician seriously claiming that since a preponderance of their state’s population is Caucasian, it is a white state. Of course, they will quickly add that people of all colors are welcome . . . sort of. Albinos, on the other hand . . .?

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Biography: Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience ( His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI.

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