Jan. 11, 2019
Article VI, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The Founders included this clause so that any American, regardless of religious affiliation, could serve their country. Unfortunately, it seems that this clause has been forgotten by some of the very people who swore an oath to uphold it.
In the first two years of the Trump presidency, at least four nominees to various federal offices have faced questions about their religious beliefs, with several senators implying that those beliefs disqualify them from serving. Most recently, this happened to Brian Buescher, President Trump’s nominee to be a U.S. District Court Judge for Nebraska. During his confirmation hearing, Buescher faced questions and criticisms from Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, with Hirono stating in her questionnaire that the Knights of Columbus holds “a number of extreme positions.” Founded in 1882, the Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization that does charitable and volunteer work around the globe, including feeding the poor, picking up trash, and collecting coats for children. Both senators attacked Buescher and the Knights of Columbus for their beliefs, which are loyal to Catholic teaching that abortion is wrong and that marriage is between one man and one woman. And Buescher isn’t alone. Just a few weeks ago, Hirono and Harris attacked Paul Matey, President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for his membership in the Knights as well.
But that’s not all. In 2017, Russell Vought was nominated by President Trump to be Deputy Director for the Office of Management and Budget. During the confirmation hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) angrily questioned Vought over his belief as an evangelical Christian that Muslims are “condemned” in the eyes of God. Later that year, Amy Barrett, the nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, faced similar scrutiny. A devout Catholic, Barrett was berated by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for adhering to her Church’s teaching on abortion, with Feinstein stating: “the dogma lives loudly within you and that is a concern.”
This is certainly not what our Founding Fathers envisioned. The United States was founded as a haven for religious freedom, not an oligarchy for the elite few. In fact, it was one of the main reasons that the Pilgrims and other religious dissidents made the treacherous journey across the Atlantic. They were so desperate to escape religious persecution that they risked their own lives and the lives of their families. During that day in Great Britain, sworn loyalty to the king and membership in the Church of England were required to serve in public office. Other religions need not even attempt a run for office. The colonists wanted the freedom to practice their faith openly and be able to participate in society at the same time, including serving in public office.
Since our founding, every public servant has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution; and while a person’s religion affects his worldview, each one is bound to that oath, regardless of their religion. In fact, it was a diversity of religions that helped form the Constitution. What these recent attacks represent is a disturbing trend and a very real threat to religious conservatives who want to serve in public office. As a nation, we are getting precariously close to the religious tyranny the Pilgrims experienced under British rule, the very tyranny by which patriot blood gained independence. Thousands more have died in the decades since to preserve this sacred human right. We must continue to defend the right of every individual, regardless of their religion, to serve in public office. And we must pressure elected officials to uphold all of the Constitution, not just the parts that fit their agenda. If we don’t, religious freedom—and the Republic—is in grave jeopardy.