Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. This article appeared in Daily Signal on June 13, 2017.
What does a man’s theology have to do with the U.S. economy? A lot, if you’re Russell Vought.
The respected economist, President Donald Trump’s pick for deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, thought he’d have to answer some tough questions at his Senate hearing last week. But like most of us, he thought they’d be about finances—not faith.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., flipped that script, launching into an aggressive and bizarre attack on Vought’s Christianity (which Sanders called “hateful,” “indefensible,” and “insult[ing]”). Shouting until he was red in the face (see the video here), he accused the president’s nominee of being an Islamophobe for believing what the Bible says about salvation.
In a tantrum that made the James Comey hearing seem tame, Sanders managed to expose one thing: which one of them is truly intolerant. To Sanders’ crazy, Vought was the picture of poise, calmly explaining that he believes every person is made in the image of God, but that Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation and path to heaven.
It was an eye-opening display for most people, who may not have realized the level of contempt many liberals hold toward the majority religion in America. Just think: This is a senator who almost won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president—a man who thinks there’s no room in the public square for people who believe the Bible.
I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the same party that wanted God out of its platform also wants him out of public service. As far as the left is concerned, Christians in government have four options: They can hide their faith, deny it, recant it, or work elsewhere. Ironically, that makes most liberals guilty of the same prejudice they’re trying to pin on men and women of faith.
As Emma Green wrote for The Atlantic, “It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. Sanders used the term ‘Islamophobia’ to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing, Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.”
Unfortunately, liberals like Sanders have no problem hauling someone’s personal views into the limelight and judging them on those beliefs—whether they impact a person’s public policies or not. Sanders’ colleague, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., could hardly believe his ears.
Bernie Sanders questioned an OMB nominee this week about religion in a way that is dangerously close to crossing a clear constitutional line for how we evaluate qualifications for public service. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution clearly states, ‘No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.’ The First Amendment is crystal clear that the federal government must protect every American’s right to the peaceful and free exercise of religion. We cannot say we have the free exercise of religion and also require people to practice their faith only in a way that government officials prefer … The freedom to be Christian, Yezidi, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, or another religion, or practice no religion, is an American right, and the United States Senate must not waver in our protection of that diversity and freedom. If we waver on the First Amendment, all of our constitutional rights, like free speech, freedom of assembly, and many others, become at risk.
The framers saw the possibility for the kind of conflict Sanders ignited and did everything they could to stop it. As James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, observed, “a zeal for different opinions concerning religion” has throughout history “inflamed [men] with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to co-operate for their common good.”
To stop those divisions, the framers made it clear in the U.S. Constitution that there was to be no “religious test” and deferred to the states (many of which had state religions at the time) if they wanted to demand orthodoxy as a condition of public service.
What Sanders is doing is imposing his own test, a reverse religious test—that people have no religious convictions. But that was never what the Founders intended. It was John Adams, after all, who said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” If anyone’s on the wrong side of that equation, it’s Sanders—not the millions of Christians whose faith this nation was founded on.
Join the 46,669 other Americans who are demanding an apology from Sanders for his bigotry. Sign our petition here and ask his colleagues to pledge that they won’t oppose nominees on the basis of their religious views.