Christopher Hitchens praises the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests for public office, along with the right to worship as one pleases. But he wishes to be precise:
However, what Article VI does not do, and was never intended to do, is deny me the right to say, as loudly as I may choose, that I will on no account vote for a smirking hick like Mike Huckabee, who is an unusually stupid primate but who does not have the elementary intelligence to recognize the fact that this is what he is. My right to say and believe that is already guaranteed to me by the First Amendment. And the right of Huckabee to win the election and fill the White House with morons like himself is unaffected by my expression of an opinion.
He goes on to list several hypothetical (or not-so-hypothetical) candidates whom he would reject out of hand, including Scientologists, Mormons, and members of extremist factions.
The above list is not exhaustive. But, in merely saying that an adherent of any such belief would certainly influence my vote and also be sure to sway it negatively, I myself apply no “religious test.” To do that, I would have to be a legislator or policeman who was urging or upholding an alteration in the law of the land. And, as previously noticed, I would have to demand, and get, an amendment to the Constitution in order to bring this about. To put this simply enough, if I turn to a JDL fanatic and tell him that I will not cast my vote for him, and he responds by saying that I am deciding my vote on the unfair basis that he is a Jew, he is welcome to the meager consolation that this may afford him, but he is legally entitled—as am I—to fight another day.
That’s quite right. Atheists are free to not only vote against but vigorously campaign against religiously devout candidates, Christians are free to oppose Jews, and Baptists are free to refuse to vote for Methodists.
The reverse is also true, however.
Evangelical Christians are free to decide for whom to vote solely on the basis of a candidate’s commitment to Jesus Christ. Religious folks are free to be single issue voters on abortion or school prayer. They’re free to vote for candidates for school boards who will work to promote “abstinence only” teaching and keep books promoting tolerance for homosexuals off the curriculum.
Once in office, religious minded politicians can seek to enact these policies into law. So long as there is a secular purpose, a religious motivation is almost never an obstacle.
The application of Hitchens’ principles will doubtless make it more difficult for men like Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney to get elected president, because their creeds are outside the American mainstream. But, as has been noted here numerous times, Americans are more than twice as likely to elect a Mormon as an atheist. Expression of religiosity, preferably an ecumenical Christianity, remains a decided plus for political candidates. That’s not a religious test; it’s just democracy.
Photo credit: Jill Stanek via Google Images.
Correction: Added a sentence to original for clarity.