A Higher Standard

The national political news has been full this week of presidential candidate Ben Carson’s declaration that he could not support a Muslim (by requirement, a Muslim-American) as President. His declaration, made on an NBC television show, was quickly condemned by most of the country, then not so quickly condemned by his fellow Republican presidential candidates, and finally retracted (but not very far) by Carson himself.

As a matter of the separation of church and state, MainStream’s founding issue, it is of course unconstitutional to deny anyone the presidency for religious reasons. The Constitution goes so far as to state in Article VI, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Besides the obvious joke, “Don’t we already have a Muslim president?” what is actually important about this flap? Carson is unlikely to secure the nomination for his party, regardless of current polling, or any fundraising bump from this event. The usual outlets on the far right have come out in support of this stance. And most right-wing politicians are ducking for cover and offering no comment unless required to.

Here are two telling moments to take with you.

First, in walking his comments back on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, Carson allowed that if a Muslim rejected certain tenets of his or faith (Hannity enumerated likely ones, “quotes in the Quran about killing the infidels or not taking Christians and Jews for your friends”) then he could support such a candidate. On his own website, Carson states, “Under Sharia, homosexuals -- men and women alike -- must be killed. Women must be subservient. And people following other religions must be killed as well. There are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenets are fully renounced I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.”

Would he support then, Christian candidates being asked to reject similar passages in the Bible? Can we get Carson to reject passages supporting slavery, condemning to death those who believe in “other gods,” or indicating that women should not teach men, and should remain silent?

Ridiculous, no? We would never expect that a candidate be required to explicitly reject every specious detail of their faith’s written works. Right? That would smack of political correctness run wild.

Second, in a Gallup Poll in late June, a majority of Americans (60%) indicated that they would be able to accept a Muslim President. The younger the American, the more positive the answer.

This “controversy” does serve to illuminate at least one important point.

At MainStream, we fight for the continued separation of church and state. We see the influence of religious beliefs in many pieces of legislation, from healthcare bills to education bills to religious “freedom” bills. We oppose that legislation because any one religious belief should never be imposed upon the public. Religious freedom is not the freedom to practice your religion without restriction. Religious freedom is, instead, the right to not have another person’s religion pressed upon you.

But, and this is important, it is also the right to not have your religious beliefs used against you to discriminate. Many legislators, candidates, and activists in Kansas are people of strong faith. It informs their beliefs, and their morals, and the choices they make in office. We celebrate them and encourage their faith journeys.

But we hold our leaders to a higher standard. Our elected leaders represent their constituents, among whom are people of many different faiths and backgrounds, all of whom share the right to religious freedom. We expect our leaders to represent all their constituents, not on matters of party politics, or platforms, but certainly when their rights are on the line. We hold our Presidents, our Governors, and our state legislators to this higher standard.

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