In some ways, this has already been a remarkable Presidential campaign. Although evangelical Protestants make up a large percentage of the Republican Party, they have been campaigning and voting for primary candidates who are Mormons and Catholics with almost no mention of religion as an issue.
For those of us who remember when John F. Kennedy ran for President, the reaction of the Republicans in 2012 is truly amazing. The fact that Kennedy was Catholic was a major issue in 1960.
While Americans seem to be increasingly comfortable with electing a President who is not a mainstream Protestant, voters still seem to require that the candidate be some kind of Christian.
Some voters openly admit that they require the President be a Christian. Many base this on the claim that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” It is undeniable that many of the Founding Fathers were indeed devout Christians, but it is also true that many of them were not.
In fact, when you look at the first five Presidents of the United States, not one of them was a mainstream Christian. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe were all either Theists or Deists, men who believed in some higher power, but not in the Jehovah of Christianity.
It is also worth noting that the Founding Fathers specifically avoided mentioning any specific god in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration refers only to a higher power, saying that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights . . . “
The Constitution makes it clear that the Founding Fathers intended to separate religion and politics. Almost everyone is familiar with the First Amendment, which guarantees individual religious freedom.
But few people know that the Constitution also specifically bars the government from using religion as a requirement for public service. Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution states that all public officials may be required to swear or affirm that they will support the Constitution, but:
“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any
office or public trust under the United States.”
Based on this exceptionally clear language, a government official cannot be required to belong to a particular religion; indeed, he cannot be required to belong to any religion at all.
Over the years, several states have attempted to evade this prohibition by writing religious tests into their state constitutions. For example, the Arkansas Constitution states:
“No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in
the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as
a w itness in any Court.”
In every case, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that such requirements cannot be enforced. However, such laws are still on the books in at least six states.
Of course, some voters will continue to enforce their own religious tests when they cast their votes, no matter what the law says. Based on the results from this year’s Republican primaries, though, religion seems to be fading as a major campaign issue. I think the Founding Fathers would approve.
Have a question or a suggestion for a topic?
Email Dennis at dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.
Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.