Religious liberty watchdogs cried foul July 28 when a United States senator during a confirmation hearing asked the candidate under oath whether he believes in God.
The U.S. Constitution plainly states: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
This has been a bright line that partisan legislators on both sides of the aisle steered clear of. Republicans reminded Democratic senators of the requirement last year during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic whose opposition to abortion is intertwined with her faith.
“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
In 2017, several Democratic senators, including Dianne Feinstein of California, were chastised for skirting to close to the no-religious-test rule while questioning Barrett during confirmation hearings for a lower federal court judgeship.
One of those who warned Democrats to watch their questioning of Barrett, lest they be guilty of bigotry against Catholics, was Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. But this year, on July 28, it was Sen. Kennedy who ran afoul of the rule.
During hearings for Biden administration nominee Hampton Dellinger to become assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, Kennedy got frustrated with Dellinger during a discussion about abortion.
Kennedy quizzed the nominee about a past tweet where he said, “If there were no Republican men in elected office, there would be no abortion bans.”
Kennedy read the tweet, then asked Dellinger: “Do you think that my votes with respect to abortion are based on the fact that I want to control women?” Dellinger replied that he “cannot speak to that.”
Soon, Kennedy asked Dellinger: “Do you believe in God?” Dellinger replied, “I have faith, I believe.”
Kennedy retorted: “A lot of people have faith. Did it ever occur to you that some people may base their position on abortion on their faith?”
Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called out Kennedy for violating the Constitution.
“That’s a flat-out violation of our Constitution’s promise that there is no religious test for public office.”
“In a democracy that values the fundamental American principle of church-state separation, U.S. senators don’t get to ask a nominee for public office during a Senate hearing whether they believe in God. That’s a flat-out violation of our Constitution’s promise that there is no religious test for public office. It’s also grossly hypocritical to witness Sen. Kennedy, who claims to be a champion of religious freedom, so blatantly deny that freedom to others.”
Dellinger, who is Catholic, was endorsed for the government position in a letter signed by seven ministers who lead churches in which Dellinger has worshipped.
“Throughout his career, Hampton has advocated for just causes and operated with care and concern for his fellow human beings,” the clergy wrote. “He has displayed the kind of compassion, humility and integrity we should demand for our public servants, affirming the dignity of all fellow citizens in the process.”
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