Ben Carson is Right: A Muslim Should Never Be the POTUS (Part 1)

Recently, Republican Presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson has come under severe attack from the left. In a question posed to him from the press, Carson articulated his personal reticence that he would ever vote in favor of a Muslim to occupy the Oval Office. Responding to a question on “Meet the Press,” the retired neurosurgeon noted, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”1 Consequently, in order to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of Carson’s position, Article VI, paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution has been endlessly invoked over the last several days by Carson’s detractors.2 For example, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was swift in its denunciation of Carson:

Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.3

This invoked constitutional provision says, “But no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Because of the relentless propaganda war now being waged to discredit Carson, three widespread myths are now being disseminated and gaining greater traction in our culture. The goal of this mini-series is to dispel each of these distortions.

 

The first myth is that Article VI, paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution somehow places a limitation upon private citizens examining the Islamic background of a candidate when deciding who they should vote for. According to this myth, it is somehow unconstitutional to advocate that citizens examine the religious perspective of those they are contemplating voting for. In context, Carson was asked a direct question about whether he would personally vote for a Muslim for office and whether one’s religion should be considered by the voters when making their decision. Article VI, paragraph 3 is irrelevant to the question posed since the provision acts as a restraint upon government and not the private citizen. In other words, the provision functions as a limitation upon what the state can and cannot do and not what the individual and private citizen can do as far as their personal voting habits are concerned.

 

This point becomes obvious by noting the words of John Jay. As a co-author of the Federalist Papers as well as America’s first United States Supreme Court Chief Justice after having been appointed to that position by President George Washington, there are probably few people in world history who understood that true meaning of the United States Constitution better than John Jay. Note Jay’s own words: “Providence has given our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”4 Such a statement becomes non-sensical if the true meaning of the Constitution was to limit the private citizen’s consideration of the religious viewpoint of those who seek public office when entering the voting booth. Beyond this, the provision cannot act as a limitation upon the private citizen. In fact, as originally construed, it cannot even act as a limitation upon the individual state governments since it was originally designed as a limitation upon the Federal Government only.

 

The second myth is that Article VI, paragraph 3 prevents any limitation whatsoever by the national government concerning the religious beliefs of any potential officeholder. In other words, the Federal government cannot require that its officeholders be Christians. This second myth represents an anachronistic interpretation of the word “religious” found in Article VI, paragraph 3. Recall that this provision says, “But no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (italics added). This interpretive error should be categorized as an anachronistic (or “outside of time”) reading since it transports a contemporary definition of the term “religious” back into the founding era of the eighteenth century. David Barton explains:

Our current understanding of what constitutes a religious test was considerably different from that of early Americans, as demonstrated by this excerpt from the 1796 Tennessee constitution: “Article VIII, Section II. No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State. Article XI, Section IV. That no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state.” A fixed set of religious beliefs for an office holder is prescribed in Article VIII, and then a religious test is prohibited in Article XI. Obviously, in their view, requiring a belief in God and in future rewards and punishments was not a religious test. Currently, a religious test is perceived as something as simple as “are you a Christian or an atheist?” This was not the question for our Founders. Prescribing a requirement professing “I, ________, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration [DELAWARE, 1776]” was not considered a religious test. It was simply a qualification for office‒a civil requirement. An unacceptable religious test to our Founders would be what we would now call a denominational test: “You must be an Anglican (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) to hold office.” A religious test did not pertain to Christian beliefs, but to specific denominational memberships.5

Daniel Dreisbach similarly explains:

The late-eighteenth-century view of oaths and religious test bans is illustrated in state constitutions of the era. The Tennessee Constitution of 1796 included the language of the Article VI test ban; however, the same constitution states that “no person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.” Adopting a standard definition of oaths, the Kentucky Constitution of 1792, which omitted an express religious test but prescribed a basic oath of office, stated that required oaths and affirmations “shall be esteemed by the legislature [as] the most solemn appeal to God.” This understanding of oaths, which was largely unchallenged in the founding era and frequently repeated in the state ratifying conventions, suggests that the U. S. Constitution…was not entirely devoid of religious affirmations and did not create an utterly secular polity. The argument was made in ratifying conventions that the several constitutionally required oaths implicitly countenanced an acknowledgment of God (which, in a sense, constituted a general, nondenominational religious “test”), while the Article VI test ban merely proscribed sect-specific oaths for federal officeholders.6

Given this contextually based reading of the Constitution’s Article VI, paragraph 3, a required oath or inquiry into the generic and non-denominational or non-sectarian Christian beliefs, or lack thereof, of any candidate for the Presidency of the United States is acceptable and well within the original meaning of the United States Constitution. In other words, even if Ben Carson was advocating that Muslims should be legally barred from serving as President of the United States, his remarks, while not conforming to today’s politically correct orthodoxy, would in no way violate either the wording or spirit of the United States Constitution. Of course, if the left does not like this practice of religious tests before holding office, they remain free to amend the Constitution according to the procedure outlined in Article V of the document. However, until this feat is accomplished, religious tests to determine the generic Christianity of Federal political candidates can indeed remain a viable practice in American politics.

 

(…To Be Continued)

 

 Endnotes


  1. http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/ben-carson-does-not-believe-muslim-should-be-president-n430431 []
  2. http://newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/matthew-balan/2015/09/21/cnns-camerota-hammers-carsons-manager-over-muslim-controversy []
  3. http://www.cair.com/press-center/press-releases/13160-cair-to-call-on-ben-carson-to-withdraw-from-presidential-race-over-anti-islam-comments.html []
  4. John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Herny P. Johnston, 4 vols., vol. 4 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93), 393, October 12, 1816. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/jay-the-correspondence-and-public-papers-of-john-jay-vol-4-1794-1826 []
  5. David Barton, Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1992), 33. []
  6. Daniel L. Dreisbach, “A Godless Constitution: A Response to Kramnick and Moore,” online: http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=84, accessed 23 September 2015, 2. []

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