The Oath of a Liar
Republican Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, “He doesn’t believe in the absolute separation of church and state.” He went on to say, “watching John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to Protestant ministers in Houston made him want to vomit.” These are peculiar sentiments for a person who carries around a pocket book of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The remarks do demonstrate, however, that using our founding documents as a prop does not confer any insight or understanding about them on one who does so.
Indeed, Mr. Santorum seems to think people who dispute his characterization of the church-state relationship are attacking his right to take away their rights. This is not the case, but truth and logic do not constrain Mr. Santorum. He not only misrepresents what the Founders and Framers said several hundred years ago; he distorts what JFK said fifty-two years ago. As Kennedy remarked, he was speaking “to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.” He did not even hint that people of faith “have no role in the public square.” In fact, Kennedy advocated an America “where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.” Far from excluding people of faith, Kennedy called for an America where public office was open to people of any faith and one’s religion was no bar to political success. Kennedy wanted there to be no “religious test for office” in practice as well as in theory. If idea seems familiar, it should because it comes from Article VI, paragraph 3 “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This was so important to the Framers that they put it in the main body of the Constitution. Why would Kennedy’s defense of this crucial aspect of the American Republic make Santorum “want to vomit?” Is Santorum that offended by constitutional governance? As a Senator and Congress Member, Santorum took an oath from 1990 through 2006 to “support, defend, and bear true faith and allegiance” to the constitution “without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” Was he lying all those years in regard to the principle of “no religious test?”
John Kennedy did not use the founding documents as props. He did not wave them as talismans. He read and understood them and realized that in terms of his political career and public life he was an American first, last, and always. In terms of the Republic’s civil life, the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and some key speeches are our political scriptures. They need not be taken on faith; they are amenable to reason. They must not, however, be caricatured and distorted for partisan advantage. They are the most serious things in the civil life in which we all have a profound stake and bear a solemn duty. The Founders and the Framers bequeathed to us a Republic. They set the endeavor in motion, but as Franklin admonished, it is ours only so long as we keep it.
In 1787, the Framers met from May through September and hotly contested the words and ideas that would finally emerge for submission to the people for ratification. From the end of September 1787 through November 1789, ratification was debated in popularly elected conventions. By June 1788, the Constitution had been ratified by enough states to make it the supreme law of the land. Therefore, government of the people, by the people, for the people was underway. This ratification process was intended to implement the principle that governments derive just powers through “the consent of the governed.” This process ratified the entire constitution including Article VI paragraph 3 – “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Therefore, this provision is clearly not something an elite cabal snuck into the constitution. The no religious test provision is there by “the consent of the governed.” Anyone taking an oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the constitution should give this provision all the respect they accord every other facet of the constitution.
When most Americans made the Pledge of Allegiance as school children, they promised to be loyal to the “Flag of the United States and the Republic for which it stands.” By doing so repeatedly during their time in school, the overwhelming majority of Americans was in effect taking an oath to the constitution. This would of course include Article Vi paragraph 3. Unless Americans are phonies who make pledges and take oaths with “mental reservation or purpose of evasion”, virtually all of us are honor bound to uphold the principle of “no religious test.” This cannot be overemphasized. The obligation of fidelity to the constitution comes from citizenship. It is not a function of being elected or appointed to office.
We, the people, are wholly and perpetually responsible to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. This is not something we can delegate to a subset among us who we elect to office. When candidates distort, deny, or diminish constitutional provisions, we have, not merely a perfect right, but a momentous duty to relegate such candidates to the dust bin of history.
The Republic has served the people well. While far from perfect, it created a political system through which mortal enemies have been defeated, most citizens have lived in peace, and many people have prospered. At times the power of the Republic was used in ignoble causes, but once it extended “from sea to shining sea” more and more people were brought under its protection. There is still much work to do and many wrongs to right, but nothing in the course of our history suggests that those who are doing well and those who are awaiting their chance will be better off if we abandon the Republic and turn to a theocratic plutocracy. As Adlai Stevenson observed, “America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact – the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality.” Progress has been made and setbacks have happened. If within our hearts there still burns the flame lit so long ago, we will rely on the better angels of our nature and be here highly resolved to finish the work thus far so nobly begun. We will ensure that only those candidates succeed in their quest for office that are without reservation loyal to the constitution. We will make it clear that liars, plutocrats, and theocrats need not apply. With a clear conscience our only sure reward, let us go forth to lead the land we love toward a brighter and better future for America and all Americans.
Eugene Robinson in the 2-27-2012 Washington Post makes this compelling point in regard to Santorum. “Progressives have an obvious interest in seeing the Republican Party choose a weak nominee, but they shouldn’t hope for Santorum. He would be the most extreme candidate since Barry Goldwater — and probably would suffer the same fate. But the nation can’t afford to take that chance.”
Tags: citizenship, Constitution, duty, honor. fidelity, liar, plutocracy, religious test, theocracy