Vail Daily column: Religion and the presidency
OK, let’s get this out front first – all religions are cults.
A “cult,” by at least one definition, is “a system or community of religious worship or ritual” (The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition, definition 2). What’s wrong with that? Few would question – whether believers or not – that while most, if not all religious institutions have now and again stumbled, on balance, religions have been a positive source of tremendous good and comfort. Much of the institutional philanthropy throughout the world is religiously based or directly sponsored.
By a more pejorative definition, however, a “cult” may be defined as “a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false…” (The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition, definition 1). Of course, this definition begs the question, “extreme” by whose standards?
Of course, what stirred the current hornets’ nest are the unfortunate comments of Pastor Robert Jeffress, who, when introducing Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, observed that, by his lights anyway, Mormonism is a cult. He went on to say it that Mormonism is outside of the mainstream of Christianity. Oh my.
You may recall that the front-running Republican candidate, Mitch Romney, is a Mormon. So, too, is Jon Huntsman, who is also angling for the Republican nomination.
When, however, did it become a requisite to run for any political office in this nation to be part of someone else’s “mainstream”? One would hope that it has not and that there is – and should not be – a religious litmus test in order to serve one’s nation.
While I don’t pretend to get inside anyone’s head, it is ironic to suppose that those most likely subscribing to the notion that one must be of the “mainstream” to serve as president would, presumably, more likely than not describe themselves as “strict Constitutionalists.” Let’s then take a peek at what the Constitution itself has to say about both the requirements of the presidency and about religion.
The Constitution, at Article II, Section 1, speaks to the requirements to serve as president. It provides, in relevant part, that:
“The executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years … No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall be eligible to the office of president; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of 35 years, and been 14 years a resident within the United States… Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’
Article II, Section 2 confers and defines the powers of the president. It holds that:
“The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law.”
Lastly, Article II, Section 3 informs the duties of the president. It provides that:
“He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.”
Look closely. Reread if you must.
What you will note is that, in what the Constitution has to say about the presidency, there is nothing mentioned about religion. Not a word. Not an inference. In fact, it would have been anathema to the Constitution and spirit of religious tolerance and freedom within which it was framed. You will note too that there is not a single breath about being “mainstream” or a majoritarian of any kind or stripe.
This is, after all, the land of equal opportunity, a meritocracy of the highest order, a nation which, in its founding, shunned hierarchies and predetermined social stratification.
Look now at the First Amendment. It provides, in its entirety:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
These were the absolute, inviolate essentials and first among these cardinal principals – the most dear of the most dear – was and is the freedom of religion. Freedom of religion and freedom from the imposition or establishment of any religion.
For anyone to advance that one is somehow unfit to hold the office of the presidency because of his religious beliefs alone is, besides being pitiably intolerant, simply anti-American.
It is as simple as that.
What we should be seeking in those who would serve is talent and ideals, rectitude and courage. To impose that, he or she must conform to any particular doctrine or dictates of religious thought is offensive to the Constitution. To so infer that it should be otherwise defiles what it means – as is inscribed beside the broken chains at Lady Liberty’s feet as she overlooks New York Harbor – to “breath free” as an American.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowners’ associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.