By Brent Walker
We have been instructed over and over again of this folly:
— In 1789, when in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution our nation’s founders declared “no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust…”
— In 1793, when President George Washington wrote to members of the New Church in Baltimore: “In this enlightened age … it is our boast that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.”
— In 1960, when the soon-to-be first Catholic elected president, John F. Kennedy, told assembled Protestant ministers in Houston that he would follow the Constitution, not papal pronouncements, and wholeheartedly embraced the separation of church and state.
— And by Billy Graham, who when reflecting on the 1976 presidential campaign in his autobiography opined: “Religious conviction alone was not the most reliable guide as to who would be the best or most effective leader.”
It is true that the Constitution’s no-religious-test clause applies only to religious qualifications imposed by law. Our nation’s commitment to full religious freedom, toleration of plush pluralism and fostering of fundamental fairness, however, all suggest that we would do well to embrace the spirit of the principle in our politics, public discourse and personal behavior.
Unless a candidate’s religious beliefs might directly dictate a leadership style, policy position or something relevant to official duties as public office holder, they should be off limits in determining which lever to pull in the voting booth.
When religion is discussed in political discourse, it should be done gingerly and respectfully. We should avoid words like “cult” that lack precise definition but communicate an unmistakable pejorative connotation.
Whatever you think of Mormonism, it is a recognized religious tradition entitled to full-fledged constitutional protection under the First Amendment. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who choose to run for public office must not be prejudiced by that affiliation.
Let’s take to heart the wisdom of our Constitution, the father of our country, our first elected Catholic president and the premier evangelist of the 20th century, and talk about things that matter.