Bernie Sanders war on devout Christianity doesn’t pass constitutional smell test
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

I know, I know—if I write an op-ed that doesn’t include the words “Trump,” “Comey,” “collusion” and “obstruction of justice,” my keyboard will be confiscated, and I’ll have to sit in a chair facing the corner. 

Still, the law of averages tells me that there must be at least one other interesting and/or draw-dropping story in Washington. I think I’ve found it.

Here are the facts. Pres. Trump has nominated Russell Vought to be the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Ordinarily, such a nomination would not generate controversy.

Mr. Vought is a veteran of Washington and seems fully able to participate in the numbers-crunching responsibilities of the OMB. 

But Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCongress to require FEC report on foreign money in elections DCCC adds first black candidates to list of top candidates Hillary Clinton’s sorry apology is why she’s no champion for women MORE (I., VT) believes that Mr. Vought is not fit for the job. In fact, Sanders thinks Mr. Vought is unfit for any job in the federal government requiring senate confirmation. Why does Sanders think that? Because Mr. Vought is a devout Christian.

Mr. Vought is a graduate of Wheaton College, which bills itself as “an explicitly Christian, academically rigorous, fully residential liberal arts college and graduate school” in Illinois. In 2016, tumult erupted when a Wheaton professor stated that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God,” which the college administration believed was inconsistent with the school’s Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose. The professor was ultimately fired.


Mr. Vought wrote an op-ed defending his alma mater’s action. In that op-ed, he asserted: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” 

I am no expert in religion, but it seems obvious that Mr. Vought was expressing only his personal theological beliefs.

Those beliefs have nothing to do with whether he accepts that Muslim Americans have the same rights and privileges as any other U.S. citizens, or whether Muslims (or any other non-Christians) are fully entitled to the equal protection of our laws. 

Not everyone agrees with that interpretation. On Wednesday, June 7th, Mr. Vought’s nomination as deputy director came before the Senate Budget Committee for a hearing.

Bernie Sanders sits on that committee, and he got right to the point. He said that Mr. Vought’s statement about Muslims was an instance of “Islamophobia” and “racism and bigotry,” and for that reason the nomination ought to be rejected. 

In questioning Mr. Vought, Sanders demanded repeatedly, in an irritated and finally angry tone, that Mr. Vought admit that his op-ed amounted to Islamophobia.

The senator never once asked the nominee whether his theological views would in any way affect the performance of his duties as deputy director of OMB. Instead, the senator said: “[T]his nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.” 

The jaw-dropping part of this story is the scope of Bernie Sander’s ignorance of or indifference to the U.S. Constitution. 

Religion is discussed at two different places in the Constitution. One, of course, is the First Amendment, which guarantees “the free exercise” of religion and also prevents government from favoring one religion over any other.

The latter prohibition commands that Muslims be treated by government the same as people of any other faith in the United States.

But the Constitution also addresses religion in Article VI. It states, in relevant part: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” 

In Bernie Sanders’ view, it is entirely appropriate to grill nominees about their personal religious beliefs.

And, if they are so “bigoted” to think that only their own religion can guarantee that a person will enjoy eternal life, then they are unfit for government office and must be rejected.

The only problem with Sanders’ position is that it flatly contradicts Article VI, which explicitly bans religious tests for office. Sanders wants to disqualify Mr. Vought before the latter has even begun to function as deputy director of OMB, because he—that is, Sanders—does not think Mr. Vought has acceptable religious beliefs.

It is one thing to say that no governmental official can be permitted to perform his or her duties in a way that discriminates against people of a particular religion. Such discrimination, of course, is unconstitutional and illegal, and the official would be properly removed from office.

It is an entirely different thing to say, before a person even assumes office, that that person is unfit because he or she has a set of religious beliefs that some senators find offensive. You would think Sanders could appreciate that crucial distinction, but apparently he cannot.

Every senator takes an oath to “support and defend” the U.S. Constitution. Sanders’ performance last week indicates that, instead of defending, he is actually attacking our fundamental charter. Perhaps he should read the document and think about what it says.

Right now I’m feeling the Bern, and it’s a little scary.

David E. Weisberg is an attorney and a member of the New York State bar. His scholarly papers on constitutional law are published on the Social Science Research Network.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.