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Social Conservatives: Remember the Constitution

February 21, 2012

by J. Andrew Zalucky

Earlier today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the well known Billy Graham, was asked about President Obama’s status as a christian:

“You have to ask him. I cannot answer that question for anybody. All I know is I’m a sinner, and that God has forgiven me of my sins,” Graham said. “You have to ask every person. He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.”

After this rather blatant dodge of the question, he went on to explain his view that Obama’s Muslim heritage makes him a “son of Islam” in the eyes of the Muslim world.

Why does this topic still come up?

I think its pretty clear from several statements, his upbringing, and from the schools he attended as a child that President Obama is not a “secret Muslim.” I don’t think it matters how much the Muslim world wants to claim the man who holds our highest office- an office which pertains to SECULAR authority, NOT religious authority. I’ve heard it said however, that when set against other first families, the Obama’s are not the most diligent about attending mass or being outwardly religious. I don’t particularly care about this, in fact I’ve also heard some journalists claim that Obama is a non-believer.

One thing I would love to hear from social conservatives is this: what would you rather Obama be, a Muslim or an Atheist?

Of course, this would be just to satisfy my own curiosity about the different levels of fear among those who wish the state to align itself with evangelical Christian values. But in all constitutional reality, questions like these are made meaningless by what the Founding Fathers put into Article 6 of the United States Constitution:

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.

President Obama, whatever face-saving Christianity he adopts in public, is under no obligation to actually be a Christian.

“But Drew, America is a Christian nation you God-hating bastard!!!”

Or, depending on the state in which they are speaking (like New York or Florida), they might try to go all ecumenical and say “Judeo-Christian.” But this actually reminds me of an incident in American history when America found itself in the middle of hostilities between the Muslim world and a still officially-Christian Europe. In 1796 and 1797, the Treaty of Tripoli was signed respectively in its Arabic and English translations. While little more than standard diplomacy, Article 11 stands out:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Note: this treaty was ratified by a unanimous vote in the U.S Senate and signed by then President John Adams. Of course, there is debate among scholars about whether Article 11 actually made it into the Arabic version, its worth remembering that the English version was read aloud in the Senate and examined by the President without any sign of contention over the language used in Article 11.

I’m perfectly willing to admit that religion has a role for many people in their personal lives and perhaps in their communities, but that is where the line must be drawn. Our founding documents and the rudimentary principles of pluralism and civil society demand that government must be neutral on the question of religion, at best. Of course, I think that it is totally valid to examine a candidate’s moral dispositions when determining whether or not that candidate should be elected (Mitt Romney’s Mormonism for example, or Rick Santorum’s alarming and reactionary form of Catholicism). This is especially true if the principles of a candidate’s religion openly advocate actions that break the law- like parents who deny their children medical care because it “violates their faith”, even when their children are dying. Here’s an example…oh and here’s another one.

For my part, I wish the topic never had to come up, and that there could be a mass secularization of our politics. If you can’t fix our education system, get our economy under control, or advance our international reputation, it doesn’t matter how “saved” you are, or who “saved” you anyway.


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