U.S. Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced on Wednesday that he would oppose President Trump’s nominee for deputy budget director, Russell Vought, because of his religious beliefs.
In 2016, Vought wrote a blog post for The Resurgent in which he defended the decision by his alma mater, Wheaton College, to terminate Larycia Hawkins after her comments that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God.”
In the post, Vought affirmed ancient Christian doctrine: Christ is one with God the Father and God the Spirit, and the Triune God alone is divine. Because Muslims reject Christ’s divinity, Vought argued, they do not worship the same god as Christians. Hawkins’ activism undermined that doctrine, and Vought wrote that that was sufficient grounds for her firing.
Sanders, however, did not seem to understand that Christians across the denominational spectrum have believed what Vought does for thousands of years. Vought — and therefore the church’s doctrine — is, in Sanders’ eyes, “Islamophobic.”
“[The blog post is] indefensible. It is hateful. It is Islamophobic. And it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders said in a committee hearing.
Sanders is a duly elected United States senator. He is entitled to vote however he wants on Vought’s nomination. But his anti-Christian bigotry clearly violates the spirit of the Constitution and the principles of religious liberty our Founders established.
Article VI, section three of the Constitution clearly states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The Framers at Philadelphia inserted this clause into the Constitution because, according to the theory of the Founding, religion is a matter of private conscience.
Before the Constitution’s ratification, there were actually serious cases of American citizens denied entry to public office because of their religious backgrounds. One Philadelphia synagogue wrote to the Pennsylvania government in 1783, asking them to remove the ban on Jewish participation in public office.
“With great submission [we] apprehend that a clause in the constitution, which disables them to be elected by their fellow citizens to represent them in assembly, is a stigma upon their nation and religion,” the petition said.
By disallowing Jews from serving in public office, the Pennsylvania state constitution implicitly said that their faith was inimical to good government. That law was discriminatory and anti-semitic, and the Founders went to great lengths to eradicate such bigotry when they wrote the Constitution.
“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses,” James Madison wrote in a 1792 essay on property rights. “This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”
A government which “directly violates the property which individuals have in their opinions, their religion, their persons, and their faculties,” Madison continued, could only be properly called a tyranny. Article VI, section three of the Constitution is the practical tool which prevents the problem of religious discrimination — like that against the Jewish community of revolutionary Pennsylvania — Madison and the other Framers identified from arising.
Sanders would do well to remember this history and rethink his attacks on Vought’s sincerely-held beliefs. His comments on Wednesday hearken back to a time when ugly laws preserved religious bigotry.
At a campaign rally in Iowa last year, Sanders condemned then-candidate Donald Trump and said that one of the greatest tasks facing the American people is the elimination of bigotry.
“I would have hoped that in the year 2016, after all of the suffering and all of the struggles that have taken place in this country for hundreds of years regarding racism and discrimination,” Sanders said, “I would have hoped that issue would have been behind us. I would have hoped that in the year 2016, a candidate of a major political party does not make the cornerstone of his campaign bigotry.”
That speech has now been proven hypocritical. Sanders isn’t actually interested in fighting all kinds of discrimination. In fact, his statements about Vought show he’s simply perpetuating his own kind of bigotry.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore