The Constitution says the US government cannot impose religious tests on public office. But academics say Sen. Bernie Sanders can inconsequentially apply his own religious column by opposing a presidential candidate who believes non-Christians risk going to hell.
Independent from Vermont, who is Jewish corn “not particularly religious,” said Russell Vought, candidate for deputy director of the Bureau of Management and Budget, said Wednesday, focusing on an article he wrote that said Muslims “don’t know God because ‘they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they are condemned. “
Sanders asked if this view was Islamophobic and if Jews were also doomed.
Vought replied that he is a Christian. “Do you think people who are not Christians are going to be condemned? Sanders asked. Vought began to respond before Sanders interrupted him, asking if this view was “respectful of other religions.”
Revue nationale columnist David French writes that Sanders “imposed a religious test on public service in direct violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution” and opposed “fully Orthodox Christian beliefs” regarding access to heaven.
Constitutionalists say Sanders, who said he would vote against Vought, may violate the spirit of the Constitution, but arguably not Article VI, which reads: States. ”
“Historically, this was a reference to the Test and Corporation Act in Britain and similar laws in the American colonies and states which limited office to members of the Church of England, Christians, Protestants or believers in God, ”says Stanford University Law. professor Michael McConnell.
“No senator should vote against a candidate because of their religion. It would violate the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution, ”said McConnell. “But senators can vote against candidates for any reason or no reason at all. There would be no legal consequences and the candidate would have no forum to complain. “
Allan Vestal, of Drake University Law School, said the Constitution’s ban on religious testing “does not provide a mechanism to investigate the motives of senators and individual representatives in the votes they cast. expressed “.
“There is no constitutional constraint on votes for or against, so yes, he can,” agrees Richard Epstein, professor of law at New York University.
“He can pay a political price. But taking the other position means that every close vote in the Senate will test the motives of all senators, ”Epstein said. “What do we do with those who are less explicit than Sanders but harbor these prejudices?
Fred Gedicks, a law professor at Brigham Young University, said “it would be very difficult to bring a lawsuit” in response to a hypothetical loss of one-vote Senate confirmation.
Gedicks says there have been a handful of successful lawsuits against laws requiring the teaching of creationism or the establishment of moments of silence in school, with courts finding a lack of secular purpose behind the votes.
“[But] a confirmation vote is not even a law. Can you attack just one [senator’s] to vote for lack of secular objective? “Asks Gedicks with some doubt. He believes that a lawsuit would be dismissed for lack of standing or on the grounds that it is a non-justiciable political issue.
McConnell points to the speech or debate clause of the Constitution, which he says makes members of Congress “absolutely immune from prosecution for their votes.”
University of Alabama law professor Paul Horwitz argues that senators are “free to vote against a candidate for religious reasons, just as he or she is free to do so for other reasons, including racism or sexism “.
“It might be excruciating, but it’s not unconstitutional,” he said.
Horwitz says that in some cases voting against someone on the basis of their religious beliefs may even be reasonable.
“Imagine a candidate for the head of the EPA who said that for religious reasons she thinks that we should use all the natural resources on the earth now and not be afraid of plundering the earth or wasting its resources because she is certain that the world will end in five years, ”he said.
“That said, the values behind the religious test clause and the religious clauses of the First Amendment certainly count against Senator Sanders’ position here,” Horwitz said. “Senator Sanders was not advancing a political point of view, but a theological one, and he does not have to tell the candidates that they should all believe and bear witness that all roads to Heaven are the same.”
Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Also pressed the issue during Wednesday’s hearing. “I am a Christian, but to be a Christian, in my opinion, is to recognize that there are many ways that people can pursue their God.” Van Hollen said. “No one is questioning your faith … It is your comments that suggest a violation of public confidence in what will be a very important position.”
A spokesperson for Sanders defended his position on Thursday, tell the atlantic “racism and bigotry – condemning a whole group of people for their faith – cannot be part of any public policy” and that “it is simply unacceptable” for a public servant to use “Islamophobic language as well strong “. Atlantic that his testimony “did not question anyone’s faith. He called on Mr. Vought to be fair to all Americans and to respect the Constitution.”