In Defense Of Bernie Sanders

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I have long opposed Bernie Sanders’ socialist, anti-constitution, and anti-family agenda. Yet I feel the need to come to the senator’s defense on the issue of religious tests.

On Wednesday, the Senate Budget Committee held its confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s recent nominee for deputy budget director. Sanders aggressively interrogated the nominee during the hearing about an article he had written after his alma matter, Wheaton College, a private Evangelical college in Illinois, forced out a professor for making curiously unorthodox doctrinal statements about Islam. Specifically, Sanders found this excerpt from Vought’s article particularly offensive:

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

Sanders asked Vought whether he believed the statement was Islamophobic, to which the nominee responded by explaining that his article was written in accordance with Wheaton College’s statement of beliefs and traditional Christian doctrine. Vought then proceeded to clarify that he, as a Christian, believes Jesus Christ is central to salvation.

Sanders, clearly offended by Vought’s religious beliefs, told the committee that he would vote against confirming the nominee.

Many on the political left and right alike were horrified that Sanders would choose not to support a presidential nominee because of the nominee’s religious beliefs. In an article published by The Atlantic, Emma Green accuses Sanders of creating “a religious test for Christians in office.” Writing for National Review, David French commends Bernie Sanders “to brush up on his civic education and remember that religious freedom belongs even to citizens (and nominees) he doesn’t like.”

Despite these hyperbolic claims, it’s important to realize that Bernie Sanders isn’t creating a religious test by refusing to support Vought’s nomination.

It’s true that Article VI of the Constitution bans religious tests for “any office or public trust under the United States.” It certainly would be unconstitutional for Congress to pass a law prohibiting Christians from serving in elected federal offices. Similarly, Congress could not require that all elected officials belong to a particular denomination or ascribe to certain theological beliefs.

However, Bernie Sanders isn’t advocating the enactment of laws forbidding Christians from holding office. Instead, he is merely exercising his right as a citizen and senator to withhold his support for a presidential nominee with whom he disagrees, an action that is unquestionably allowable under Article VI.

An historical anecdote may better elucidate this point. When early Americans worried that Muslims, atheists, or pagans might be elected to federal office, Justice James Iredell, a George Washington appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, assured his apprehensive countrymen that it was unlikely that the voters would ever elect candidates with religious beliefs the voters believed to be aberrant:

“But it is objected that the people of America may perhaps choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and [Muslims] may be admitted into offices. . . . But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own.”

Although the Constitution forbids the federal government from employing religious tests for federal officeholders, the people are left free to support or oppose candidates on the basis of religious beliefs.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” during this last election cycle, Republican presidential nominee Dr. Ben Carson adamantly declared that he would not agree with “putting a Muslim in charge of this nation” because Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution. Unsurprisingly, hysterical liberal journalists began accusing Carson of imposing an unconstitutional religious test.

Just like Carson has the right to oppose a Muslim presidential candidate, Sanders has the right to object to a Christian presidential nominee, even if his only reason is because he finds Christian theology reprehensible. While our Constitution bans the federal government from implementing religious tests for officials, it thankfully allows the people and their representatives to consider whether someone’s religion makes him or her unfit for the office he or she is seeking.

Our nation’s founders unquestionably believed that the people’s right to judge a candidate’s religion is essential to their function as voters. We shouldn’t argue otherwise.


Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

5 replies
  1. David Shulman
    David Shulman says:

    I am surprised that Sanders chose theology as the basis for his questioning of Vought. He is usually more thoughtful. We all have first Amendment rights to believe all kinds of intolerant things and apply them in strictly religious spheres such as Wheaton College. Does Vought believe that millions of Chinese, Muslim, and Hindu babies that died young are roasting in Hellfire? Who cares? Does Vought believe in equal application of law? That is what is important.

    Reply
  2. Dibble Caine
    Dibble Caine says:

    Whatever the constitution does not empower the congress to put into law may not be legislated, and any such non-law may not be executed by the president. (Much less may the congress or courts execute it.) Moreover, the federal courts may not hear cases about any such non-law. What illegal religious test Sanders was unable to legislate as a senator, he attempted to execute as a senator. It is undeniable that while performing his duties as a senator, Sanders required Vought to give the cultural marxist answer to an explicitly religious question as a qualification for Vought’s appointment. If we say Sanders acting alone cannot be guilty of violating Article VI, how many senators doing the same would it take before it became apparent that a religious test was being used to disqualify an appointee? Why do we let the lawless run our governments? Sanders should at least be censured and expelled from the senate.

    Reply
    • Dave coleman
      Dave coleman says:

      How many? Well I guess to be considered maximum in the GOP one would surely need to be Christian. So how many ? The slight majority of congress. Bye bye at midterms.

      Reply
    • Bob Beavin
      Bob Beavin says:

      Sen. Sanders can legally choose any test he chooses to make his decision regarding a nominee for a position, no matter how wrong (in my opinion) that test may be. It is up to the people he represents, his constituents, to remove him from office. He is an avowed socialist, so it should be no surprise to anyone that he is against Christian beliefs, theology, and doctrine.

      Reply

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