But what we haven’t seen — or, more importantly, heard from the president — is reference to the constitutional point. The one qualification for public office under the United States that was flatly outlawed by the Founders of our country is a religious test. It is prohibited in main body of the Constitution, in Article VI. It requires that all senators and representatives, and all members of all the state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers — both of the federal and state governments — must be bound over by an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution of the United States. Then it lays down the famous prohibition: “. . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
We’ve written about this before, but it can’t be written about too often, at least not these days. One Founder, Oliver Ellsworth,* called religious tests “the parent of hypocrisy, and the offspring of error and the spirit of persecution.” The Founders understood that they could not control, via the Constitution, what the voters of America think about when they go into the privacy of a voting booth. But in prohibiting religious tests for public office — their construction of “no . . . ever . . . any” makes the prohibition the most emphatic statement in the entire Constitution — they made a point about American inclusiveness that has marked our country from the beginning. By our lights the best strategy for Mr. Obama and for all other politicians confronted with this issue is to avoid protesting their own bona fides as a Christian, or any other religion, and instead mark the Constitutional point. Religious tests for public offices under the United States are un-American.
* Third Chief Justice of the United States.