This Is Not a Test
It's perfectly reasonable to reject a candidate because of his religious views.
Just before this gets completely out of hand and becomes a mantralike repetition, let us please recall what the careful phrases of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution actually and very carefully and deliberately say:
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.
As so often, the framers and founding fathers meant what they said, said what they meant, and risked no waste of words. A candidate for election, or an applicant for a post in the bureaucracy, could not be disqualified on the grounds of his personal faith in any god (or his disbelief in any god, for that matter). This stipulation was designed to put an end to the hideous practice of European monarchies—and the pre-existing practice of various American colonies—whereby if a man did not affirm the trinity, or deny the pope, or abjure Judaism (depending on the jurisdiction), he could be forbidden to hold office or even to run for it. Along with the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and the predecessor-language of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, it forms part of the chief glory of the first-ever constitution that guaranteed religious liberty, religious pluralism, and the freedom to be left alone by priests and rabbis and mullahs and other characters.
However, what Article VI does not do, and was never intended to do, is deny me the right to say, as loudly as I may choose, that I will on no account vote for a smirking hick like Mike Huckabee, who is an unusually stupid primate but who does not have the elementary intelligence to recognize the fact that this is what he is. My right to say and believe that is already guaranteed to me by the First Amendment. And the right of Huckabee to win the election and fill the White House with morons like himself is unaffected by my expression of an opinion.
So, can we please have less of this deliberate misunderstanding of Article VI, which, if it goes much further, will actually seem to prevent or even to criminalize any criticism of theocratic candidates for high office. I ask you now, does it seem likely that any article of the U.S. Constitution was specially written so that you could not publicly and freely and fearlessly say that you would most decidedly not vote for:
- A candidate who followed the "Rev." Jim Jones to a Kool-Aid resort in Guyana (don't forget that this did actually happen)
- A candidate who said that the pope could excommunicate other American candidates with whom he disagreed
- A candidate who said that the above-mentioned pope was the Antichrist
- A candidate who said that L. Ron Hubbard was a visionary
- A candidate who said that Joseph Smith was a visionary
- A candidate who said that any holy book was scripturally inerrant
- A candidate who was a member of Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood or the Nation of Islam
- A candidate who was a supporter or member of the Orange Order or the Ulster Unionist Party
- A candidate who was a supporter or member of Opus Dei or the Phalange Party
- A candidate who was a supporter or member of Lehi or the Jewish Defense League
- A candidate who was a member of the Aryan Nations, the KKK, or any other white Protestant "Christian Identity" faction
- A candidate who said that the Quran was dictated by the archangel Gabriel
The above list is not exhaustive. But, in merely saying that an adherent of any such belief would certainly influence my vote and also be sure to sway it negatively, I myself apply no "religious test." To do that, I would have to be a legislator or policeman who was urging or upholding an alteration in the law of the land. And, as previously noticed, I would have to demand, and get, an amendment to the Constitution in order to bring this about. To put this simply enough, if I turn to a JDL fanatic and tell him that I will not cast my vote for him, and he responds by saying that I am deciding my vote on the unfair basis that he is a Jew, he is welcome to the meager consolation that this may afford him, but he is legally entitled—as am I—to fight another day.
Isn't it amazing how self-pitying and self-aggrandizing the religious freaks in this country are? It's not enough that they can make straight-faced professions of "faith" at election times and impose their language on everything from the Pledge of Allegiance to the currency. It's not enough that they can claim tax exemption and even subsidy for anything "faith-based." It's that when they are even slightly criticized for their absurd opinions, they can squeal as if being martyred and act as if they are truly being persecuted.
In a breathtaking profile of Huckabee published in the Dec. 16 New York TimesMagazine, we read under the byline of Zev Chafets the following euphemistic drivel:
Nowadays, Huckabee has more policy positions, but his campaign is really all about his Christian character. His slogan is "Faith, Family, Freedom," which Huckabee, who was once public-relations man for the Texas televangelist James Robison, wrote himself. Huckabee is no theocrat. He simply believes in the power of the Christian message, and in his ability to embody and deliver it. "It's not that we want to impose our religion on somebody," he wrote in Character Makes a Difference, a book first published in 1997 (as Character Is the Issue) and reissued earlier this year. "It's that we want to shape the culture and laws by using a worldview we believe has value."
Nice work, no? Can it really be true that "no theocrat" Huckabee wrote that whole slogan all by himself? While you ponder this massively impressive claim, I suggest that you look up the life and times of "the Texas televangelist James Robison" and ask yourself if, in voting against him or his smarmy underling, you would be acting or thinking unconstitutionally.
Awarding his subject a prize for performing the same cheap media trick that he has just performed himself, Chafets (who might also be described as a former public-relations man, but this time for Jerry Falwell's old friend and patron Menachem Begin) concludes by asserting that "Huckabee has become a master at disarming secular audiences." This big fat lie becomes a slender and wispy half-truth only if enough fools can be brought to believe it. One of the ways the propaganda trick is pulled is to insinuate, and to keep on insinuating, that it is the enemies of religious intolerance who are themselves the intolerant ones. That's the way to undermine, and eventually to demolish, the wall of separation.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Mike Huckabee by Darren McCollester/Getty Images.