Constitution Day reminds us to safeguard the guarantee of the absence of religious testing

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On September 17, we celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. For those of us who pay close attention to the guarantees of religious freedom in our laws, Constitution Day is an important reminder that the breadth of those protections we cherish today was not inevitable during the foundation of our nation. Religious freedom was hard won by those who advocated with great foresight and a commitment to freedom of faith for all.

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Among the most important expressions of this commitment is Article VI of the Constitution, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for a public office or trust in the United States.” As BJC associate general counsel Jennifer Hawks explains in a new article for Baptist News Global, during the ratification debates, many vocal opponents of the religious testing ban were thankfully not victorious:

Some opponents believed that a religious test was necessary to eliminate the “unworthy” or “immoral”. Others were dismayed that this lack of a religious test could mean that one day non-Protestants and even non-Christians would take federal office. Major General John Sullivan summed up the objections in New Hampshire, writing “even if (the religious test) were dropped in all other cases, the president should at least be forced to submit to it; – because otherwise, says one, ‘A Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and worst of all, a Universalist, can be president of the United States.’ “

Today, while it’s easy to take for granted that Americans of all faiths are eligible for any public office, it’s important to remain vigilant in safeguarding this key principle. Threats against him can be subtle, as BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler warned after campaign ads in 2020 targeting Reverend Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, then Senate candidate, focused on his previous sermons. “[T]To say that a religious opinion you hold would somehow disqualify you for public office, “she said, is a way” to somehow impose a religious test for the civil service ”.

Likewise, during Senate confirmation hearings for cabinet candidates and judges, questions about a candidate’s religious beliefs should be considered off-limits if we are to stick to the principle of religious no-testing. A series of questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, for example, during Russell Vought’s 2017 confirmation hearing “imposed a religious test,” according to Tyler, condemning Vought’s religious view that accepting Jesus is the only way to salvation.

The great American political experiment protects the religious freedom for all to believe or not to believe according to their conscience. This proud story has proven that religious opinions and adherence do not limit a person’s ability to fully contribute as an elected official. Americans of all faiths and faiths can honor and honor their civic commitments under the law every day while remaining true to their religious beliefs.

On this Constitutional Day, I am aware that our founding document did not have to include the direct declaration of religious inclusion in Article VI, and I am grateful to it. Defenders of religious freedom must continue to monitor and denounce these threats both in letter and in spirit of the ban on religious tests for public service.



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