On Sunday’s edition of Fox & Friends, while Tony Perkins was trying sell his brand of hate to CBS News’ Face the Nation (and failing), Father Jonathan Morris of the Archdiocese of New York and a frequent contributor to Fox News, argued that it would be “hard to trust” an atheist president because an atheist president would not “know there are eternal consequences” to his actions.
You might remember Article 6, paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution. No member of the Religious Right will. It says, clearly and concisely: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
In other words, you cannot require someone to be of any particular religious persuasion when they run for public office in the United States. Including, most prominently, President of the United States. This clause, thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment, also applies to the fifty states.
Even if Article Six, paragraph 3, was originally meant to keep one Christian denomination from persecuting another, the Constitution nowhere says you have to be an adherent of any religion to hold public office. That is the simple and indisputable fact here.
Which is what has always made Republican claims that President Obama is a Muslim so laughable. It doesn’t matter. Except to bigots. Legally and constitutionally, it is a non-issue.
Father Morris is clearly worried about something the Founding Fathers did not worry about. In fact, the delegate who proposed the No Religious Test Clause, Charles Pinckney, came from South Carolina (ironically, given the state’s increasing importance to GOP presidential hopefuls), where Protestantism was the state religion.
The South Carolina Constitution of 1778 (Pinckney wasn’t elected to the South Carolina legislature until 1779) said,
XXXVIII. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State.
(Also in the irony department: in 1992 the South Carolina Constitution – the latest version of which dated from 1895 – was still barring atheists from holding public office.)
Just to be fair, not everything Morris said was directed at godless liberals. In speaking to the possibility that some Republican candidates might simply be pandering to the Religious Right, Morris said,
Politicians sometimes fall into that, I think. What matters most to us Americans — those who will be voting — is what these guys said before they were running for president, the way in which they lived before they started running for president.
I think they need to be very clear about the values they believe in, not making stuff up in order to get votes. And then people will say, ‘Even if I disagree with some of his beliefs, I like the fact that I can trust him to be who he says he is.’
An excellent point, as it happens. Look at Mormon Mitt Romney, who suddenly found Evangelicalism in time to run for president in 2012.
How should faith “inform your life?” Tucker Carlson wondered. Morris answered:
It’s a belief in God. It’s a belief that there are eternal consequences for your actions. And I think a leader that doesn’t have that — a set of core beliefs that help him to make justice an important part of his life and his decisions because he knows that there are eternal consequences, well, it’s somebody that it’s hard to trust.
To the question of whether an atheist should be president, Morris seemed to want to appear reasonable while feeding the myth that goodness and morality cannot exist outside Christianity:
“You know, I would say that faith is not the most important thing, but wisdom, in terms of a leader. But yes, I certainly think it makes a difference who that person is.”
Why Father Morris didn’t take this opportunity – or any other in his many appearances on Fox News – to defend the poor Jesus championed, is anyone’s guess. This would have been the perfect time to point out that Republican economic policies create poor people, and then not only demonize them, but punish them for being poor.
Shouldn’t adhering to Jesus’ gospel about the poor (blessed are the poor, the last shall be first, etc) be more critical in a Republican candidate than whether or not they fear eternal damnation?
Sorry I’ve gone off tangent: Republican Jesus’ sole mission on this earth was to hate on gay people and women and champion gun rights. How could I forget?
Will you forgive me, Father Morris, for suggesting even for an instant that Christians ought, at least a little bit, follow Jesus in their approach to the poor?
Certainly, if atheists and secularists can do it, Christians can.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.