Saturday, June 10, 2017

Religious Exclusivity and Discrimination in Politics

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”  At a recent confirmation hearing Senator Bernie Sanders questioned a statement by Russell Voight, nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.  Voight said that “Muslims…do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

            Senator Sanders condemned Voight’s statement as Islamophobic.  Ironically, such religious exclusivity is typical of fundamentalist Muslims as well as Christians.  Fundamentalists of both religions believe that theirs alone is the one true faith and that God condemns all others to eternal damnation.  In a religiously pluralistic culture like the U.S., religious fundamentalists holding such exclusivist beliefs are unsuited for public office.

            In a politics polarized by competing religious and political beliefs, providing equal justice under law is impossible if public officials of one religion believe that God has condemned all others to eternal damnation.  Most Americans claim to be Christians, but it is unknown how many are fundamentalists.  Perhaps there should be a political test for public officials to ensure that they do not believe that anyone is condemned because of their religious beliefs—or unbelief.

            It is axiomatic that public officials must avoid unlawful discrimination to provide equal justice under law, and that religious exclusivity is likely to produce such discrimination.  While a person’s religious belief should not be a test to qualify for political office, any belief likely to cause unlawful discrimination should be a relevant political consideration in considering whether a person should hold public office.

            Religion has moral and mystical components.  Thomas Jefferson considered the moral teachings of Jesus “the sublimest morality ever taught” and relevant to our politics.  But Jefferson considered the mystical and exclusivist doctrines promoted by the church as irrelevant and inappropriate to our politics.  Religious exclusivity crosses the line.  It is a mystical matter of faith that has moral implications that are relevant to our politics.        

            The greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves—including those of other races and religions—combines the mystical and moral.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike; and if those believers were to give that common word of faith precedence over exclusivist religious beliefs, there could be a universal politics of reconciliation that could lead to lasting peace with justice—but not until then.

Notes and Related Commentary:

On Bernie Sanders’ religious test for Christians in public office, see

Thomas Jefferson wrote Henry Fry on June 17, 1804: "I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in the utmost profound detestation and execration the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man."  Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible, edited by O. I. A. Roche, Clarkson H. Potter, Inc., New York, 1964, at p 378; see also Jefferson’s letter to John Adams dated October 13, 1813, at pp 825, 826; Jefferson's commentaries are at pp 325-379.  See also, Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, at page 10, note 2, posted at

On whether there is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims today? see

On religious fundamentalism and a politics of reconciliation, see

No comments:

Post a Comment