Senators are failing the religious test for office

Senators are failing the religious test for office
© Greg Nash

While most coverage of Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight MORE’s nomination for secretary of State focused on the battle for votes in the Senate, the process also featured the latest in a disturbing trend of senators apparently violating Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

Last week, Senator Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris, Booker call for judgement on Jussie Smollett case to be withheld until investigation is completed Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Jussie Smollett case shows media villainizing Trump and his supporters, without proof — again MORE (D-N.J.) was the latest U.S. senator to add his name to a growing list treating the Constitution’s unequivocal rejection of a religious test for office like the “Pirates of the Caribbean’s” Barbosa treats “The Code”: “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Article VI, specifically the final clause, guarantees that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Someone tell the Democratic caucus of the U.S. Senate. 

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Outraged by Pompeo’s beliefs about marriage and human sexuality, as shared by millions of his fellow Americans, Booker threw question after question at Pompeo, a Christian, questioning whether he could possibly lead the U.S. Department of State with such orthodox beliefs. With the limited time allotted, Booker did not explore Pompeo’s credentials, did not evaluate his education, experience, or wisdom — at least not with the same ferocity with which he attacked Pompeo’s religiously-based convictions. 

And, it did not end inside the hearing room. Booker quickly took to social media, publicly mocking Pompeo — and thus any American who may morally agree with him — for the implications of his religious beliefs. He climbed behind the pulpit of Facebook and delivered a senator’s sermon at the nominee, quoting from the Bible as he announced he would not vote to confirm Pompeo as secretary of State.

Sadly, nominees have come to expect this from the U.S. Senate, so Pompeo was prepared and took the aggressive questioning in stride, rightly explaining that he maintains “respect for every individual regardless of sexual orientation,” and would, under his leadership, do all he could to improve a dispirited State Department. 

While Pompeo managed to ably navigate around the senator’s test, other nominees may not be so fortunate. For them, I have some advice: assert Article VI.

Those who crafted the Constitution meant to ensure that good and wise citizens of every stripe, religious or not, is able to serve this country. Our framers understood the great benefit to our nation when many diverse voices, from a multitude of religious, cultural, and philosophical backgrounds are welcomed to serve in making our country one.

Booker is not the first, nor likely the last, to violate Article VI. Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Booker seeks dialogue about race as he kicks off 2020 campaign Capitalism: The known ideal MORE (I-Vt.) famously attacked the religious convictions of Russell Vought, President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump praises law enforcement response to shooting at Illinois business Five dead in shooting at manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois MORE (D-Ill.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line MORE (D-Calif.) imposed their religious test upon Judge Amy Coney Barrett, with Feinstein famously condemning Barrett for the “dogma” that “lives loudly within” her.

Enough. 

It would be good for our republic if the next nominee faced with the bullying and grandstanding that passes for “advise and consent” were to opt out of the political theater. Nominees faced with unconstitutional inquiries into their religious beliefs have every right to respond with a respectful, “Senator, that question asserts a religious test for office. Based on Article VI of the Constitution, I will not answer your question.”   

Of course, the offending senator will gripe and complain. Those inclined to trample upon the limitations of government always do. But, in the end, the vision our founders had of welcoming everyone to share in the diverse governance of our republic will be preserved.

More importantly, those watching across the nation — Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others — will appreciate knowing that they too are welcome to embrace the promise that any American may participate in this government of, by, and for the people — including religious people. They will not, as they should not, be forced into choosing between defending or abandoning their religious convictions, regardless of how antiquated one senator finds such beliefs. 

Senators can vote for or against nominees for nearly any reason or no reason at all. But when they question a nominee’s religious faith, pronounce it disagreeable, and withhold his or her vote because of the nominee’s faith, senators violate the Constitutional promise of imposing no religious test for public office. 

Jeremy Dys is deputy general counsel for First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all.