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The Religious Test Clause and Muslims

The Religious Test Clause and Muslims

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Ben Carson raised more than a few eyebrows on Sunday when he said that a Muslim should never be considered for the presidency. The retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential hopeful was responding to a question from Meet the Press host Chuck Todd when he made the Islamophobic comment.

“Should a president’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” Todd asked Carson.

“Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” Carson replied. “But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”

Todd followed up by asking Carson if he believes Islam is consistent with the Constitution. Carson didn’t hesitate. “No, I do not,” he said. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” He did say, however, that he would consider voting for a Muslim for Congress, which he said is a “different story,” if he agreed with their policies.

Carson is among the presidential candidates who have made railing against Islam a frequent theme of their campaigns. This rhetoric may appeal a part of the Republican Party’s ultra-conservative base, but it’s disappointing to hear coming from anyone with a large following.

Of course Carson is free to set his own criteria for voting for a candidate. Every voter has that right, and some did against the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon. But let’s be clear here, Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution states: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Emphasis added.)

The framers of the Constitution had their reasons for adding the language. “First, various Christian sects feared that, if any test were permitted, one might be designed to their disadvantage. No single sect could hope to dominate national councils. But any sect could imagine itself the victim of a combination of the others,” Gerard Bradley explains. “More importantly, the Framers sought a structure that would not exclude some of the best minds and the least parochial personalities to serve the national government.”

Any suggestion that a candidate for federal office should be subjected to a religious test should is itself inconsistent with the Constitution. And, no, “but Sharia law” isn’t a valid response. It’s a half-cocked conspiracy theory, but that’s what passes for political and policy discussion today in the United States, at least in some circles.