Should there be a religious litmus test for holding office? |

Should there be a religious litmus test for holding office?

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

In part, what we have lost nearly 4.000 American lives and untold national treasure for in Iraq, is to battle the establishment of a fundamentalist theocracy.

In the case of Iraq, the rising theocracy, as in much of that part of the world, is Muslim, which has become politically expedient to demonize (of course, demonizing the enemy is as old as war itself ” remember the vile epithets of “Japs,” “Krauts,” “Gooks” and other dehumanizing slurs from previous wars.

A “theocracy” may be defined as government of a state by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. And “divine” means proceeding directly from the hand of God. Muslims are the followers of the Islamic religion, the world’s second largest religious group, numbering 1 billion people strong. “Islam” means, literally, “surrender”, as in surrendering oneself to the will of God (in Arabic, “Allah”). “Muslim” is the active particle of the word Islam and so a Muslim is a “surrenderer,” if you will, to the will of Allah. Allah, in the Muslim faith, is the sole God whose message was delivered in the 7th Century by His prophet, Muhammad. Non-believers are “infidels,” the same term historically applied by Christians to non-believers.

So what does this have to do with the law? Keep reading.

On page 23A of Dec. 7 Denver Post are photographs of the presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican. Beneath the photo of each is stated his or her religious affiliation. There is one Roman Catholic, four Catholics, two Methodists, two Baptists, two Southern Baptists, one Episcopalian, one “Christian,” one Presbyterian and one Mormon.

This interest in and acknowledgment of the candidates’ religious affiliations was in response to Mitt Romney’s JFK-esque speech on Dec. 6, in which he said all of the following: “Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us,” this nation has a “grand tradition of religious tolerance,” that he would not be controlled as president by “the teachings of his [Mormon] church,” “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind,” and “we separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason…but in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some beyond its original meaning.”

To be fair, much of the speech was devoted to religious tolerance and freedom of worship and embraced the common strength of our disparate faiths. For that, he should be given credit. Romney, I’m sure, is a good and decent man.

What troubles me, though, is not precisely what Romney said, but why he had to say it all, and why the other candidates need to pander their religions to certain segments of the voting public as if their religious bona fides are a requirement of service. It concerns me, too, that Romney felt compelled to juxtapose our religious traditions (while, candidly, aiming his remarks at Christian fundamentalists), against those of Islam, commencing the substance of his speech by holding that radical Islam is out to destroy “us.” A little too Crusade-like, it seems to me.

The Crusades, was a series of eight military campaigns (nine, if you count the Children’s Crusade) whereby medieval England set out to destroy the Muslims of the Middle East.

The last time I read the Constitution (earlier today, in fact), it was clear that the government cannot require a religious test for public office. For the government to require a person to hold a particular religious belief (or even a belief in God at all), violates the first and 14th amendments.

This interpretation has been tested in Everson v. Board of Education, a seminal United States Supreme Court case, handed down in 1947. The Court found that the “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.

The case of Torcaso v. Watkins sharpened the focus. Torcaso was appointed by the Governor of Maryland as a notary public. At the time, the Maryland Constitution required “a declaration of belief in the existence of God” in order to hold any public office. Torcaso, an atheist, refused, citing his constitutional freedom of religious expression, and filed suit. The Supreme Court heard his case in April, 1961 and ruled in Torcaso’s favor.

Article VI of the Constitution explicitly provides that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

How, then, did we get here and aren’t we tilting ” perhaps ever so slightly ” in the direction of the very theocracies we profess to loathe and to the defeat of which we have obliged ourselves to sacrifice our noble young men and women?

While your or my belief in a supreme being (or one’s lack of such belief) may be essential to who we are and how we view our world, there is – and should be – no litmus test to serve in office.

When the candidates declaim that we need to get back to our roots as a nation, or as Romney phrased it, “our founding fathers’…revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self-evident truths about the equality of all,” we should keep our eye keenly on precisely what it is we stand for. And to sacrifice it ” or make hypocrites of ourselves ” in the interests of political expediency is, in the end, short-sighted and, ultimately, cheapens the clarion of tolerance and liberty upon which the fundament of democracy is founded.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for continuing legal education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or by e-mail at

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