Article VI Of The Constitution Asserts There Is No Religious Test For Public Office 

“…The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Sadly, our national conversation has not recently reflected the serious commitment to religious freedom found in the country’s founding document. Examples abound of public statements questioning a candidate’s fitness for office because of the nature or scope of his or her religious beliefs.

Here are a few examples:

  • The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the evangelical Christian group National Clergy Council, took presidential candidate Barack Obama to task in a recent web posting for claiming to be Christian while not accepting everything in the Bible without question or critical consideration. In a later news release, Rev. Schenk called Sen. Obama’s Christianity “woefully deficient”.

  • Radio commentator Dennis Prager said that Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison should not be allowed to take the oath of office using a Qu’ran instead of a Bible, because “the act undermines American civilization”. Prager went on to write: “America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”

  • CNN host Glenn Beck, in an interview with Rep. Ellison, questioned the congressman about being both a Muslim and a Democrat who supports a reduction of American efforts in Iraq : “[W]hat I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.” And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

  • Boston radio host Michael Graham told MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson that members of “God’s team” would have the most luck wining political support in an election. “In the modern era, it is not one religion versus another … the line here is for God and against God.” Muslims, Graham noted, might be an exception to that statement.

  • Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has found himself under fire by some critics for his Mormon faith, recently told an audience at a gathering in Florida that the U.S. requires a “person of faith” to lead it – no atheists or agnostics need apply.

The Interfaith Alliance urges American voters to make careful, thoughtful judgments about political candidates. Religion can be part of the national conversation about our elected officials, but it should never be a weapon for political battle or a shortcut for stereotyping a person’s intentions or abilities.

When evaluating candidates for public office, consider how they would answer The Interfaith Alliance’s “Five Questions”: 

  1. What role should and does your religious faith and values play in creating public policy?
  2. What are your views on the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state?
  3. What active steps have you taken and will you continue to take to show respect for the variety of religious beliefs among your constituents?
  4. Should a political leader’s use of religious language reflect the language of his/her religious tradition, or be more broadly inclusive?
  5. How do you balance the principles of your faith and your pledge to defend the Constitution, particularly when the two come into conflict?