Obama the Christian: the “religious test” for high office

By Gustav Niebuhr Wasn’t it only a month ago that the Pew Research Center announced its finding that nearly one … Continued

By Gustav Niebuhr

Wasn’t it only a month ago that the Pew Research Center announced its finding that nearly one in every five Americans believed President Obama to be a Muslim? The poll’s publication arrived just in time for the sound and fury over plans to build an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero, and just as news cameras began raptly focusing on an obscure Florida minister who said he would burn copies of the Qur’an on 9/11.

So maybe it came as a relief to Obama to field a public question this week that allowed him to state, flat-out, that he is a Christian. (How many times has he had to do this?) Why are you a Christian, a woman asked? Note, please, her interrogative construction: “Why are you?” not “Are you?”

Obama’s questioner appeared to belong to a larger group of people in that Pew poll, a group that got precious little attention. Those were the people who had figured out that a man who wrote about his religious conversion in a 15-year-old autobiography (Dreams of My Father), who spent two decades in a Chicago church and who had a public fight with his minister during his presidential campaign–well, based on the evidence, those people must have concluded that that man was probably not a Muslim.

But there is, as always, a larger point here.

Somewhere in our Constitution–let’s try Article VI–it states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” We love to invoke the wisdom of the nation’s Founders on all sorts of occasions. But somehow, in the public mind, their brilliance in composing that particular phrase gets forgotten, along with the words themselves.

And so this particular president–a “Christian by choice,” as he described his adult conversion to the woman in that Albuquerque backyard–finds himself in the position of never explaining his religious faith quite enough to suit everyone.

Jefferson wept.

Dear Readers, what’s the president to do?

Gustav Niebuhr
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  • Secular

    My private answer would have been “It is none of you DAMN business”. But that would not have been an acceptable answer. I would have been more impressed if his answer went along these lines. ” I understand why you are asking this question. I have addressed it sufficiently in my autobiography fro 15 years ago. I do not have any new reasons, to add to. I implore you to spend $15 and buy that book and read it. This way you will also be supporting the “XYZ” charity for which the proceeds of my book go to. The folks who believe otherwise do so out of a choice they make and for no other reason. Any answer I give will not satisfy them, and frankly I have no interest in satisfying them. That would be a fools errand, and I am not a fool. “Now that would have impressed me. The birthers and the rest of the kooks, are just that kooks extraordinaire. He has to serve them, under constitution. There is nothing constitutionally nor statutorily keeping him from holding them in scorn and disdain. Not only would it have impressed me but would have given me to work to maintain the Democratic majorities in Senate and the House.

  • sottiep

    typical atheist article. Christians are not embarrassed and would not hesitate to proclaim their status. the fact that obama hides it, says it all.in any case, we will pray for our leaders as that is good and abides with the Word of our Lord and Saviour – Jesus Christ. i’m a CHRISTIAN! praise God for his grace and mercy!!

  • thebobbob

    In most workplaces you aren’t allowed to ask someones religion when they apply for a job. You hire someone based on their qualifications. America was founded by (mostly) Christians who had seen the WORST that their religion could offer: Inquisitions, witch-burnings, internal religious wars, external crusades. They knew that religion and government HAD to be kept separate.Real Americans are offended when someone imposes a religious requirement on public office. Back to the Dark Ages. Isn’t this why we’re so offended by the Taliban’s imposition of their narrow and twisted interpretation of Islamic religious law?

  • jm125

    After 8 years of bible banging Bush and all the “faith” talk, you would think the masses of USA would have had enough stinking religion. Instead, the first presidential debate between McCain and Obama was about grovelling to the brokeback mountain ministry and its disciples. Now PC commentators, politicians, and generally people who are not republican/biblebangers are gushing about faith, people of faith and importing religious zealots who brag about praying 5 times a day or more. Some PC idiot talking heads from MSNBC al quizera (?) want Bush to make speeches about the peace beauty and love of islam. Insane and stupid. Since when are PC libtards so gaga over any religious fundamentalists. This country has deevolved into a middle age’s type society and all this religous idiocy will take us to a dark age status.

  • mono1

    if people by the people and for the people can nail their god to the cross !!!in America the boss go thru religion test if he pass it he go thru skin color test if he pass it he go thru money test if he fail it then he is an automatic failure despite his sharp religion and despite his sharp shiny skin.typical brother keeper( by choice)!.

  • Davidd1

    “Religion’s surest foundation is its contempt for life.”Montaigne

  • areyousaying

    Like George the Dumber filled the Jusitice Department with rookies from Liberty University, Glenn Beck Christians would overthrow the Constitution providing for no religious test to be President. In their wet dream of a twisted Jesuslandia, we would all have to proclaim our allegiance to their hijacked “Christianity” to be entitled to basic Constitutional rights. This is evidenced by their justification of taking away these rights from Muslim-American citizens in New York and from Mexican-American citizens in Arizona.Why do we spend trillions fighting the Taliban in the Middle East when we have the same dangerous intolerant mentality forming and scheming here at home?

  • joe_allen_doty

    He gives the wrong link for Article 6, paragraph 3. All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

  • yenta1

    I find the the whole “Obama is a Muslim” thing to be a lying and disgusting “to do” churned up by the religious right in a desperate attempt to get votes from the bigots and uninformed.As Colin Powell said during the campaign, would it matter if he were a Muslim? We are supposed to not have religious tests here. If they can insult Muslims, who is next? No president should be forced to wear faith on his sleeve as Bush II did. In fact, I felt Bush II used the faith issue and was not sincere when he did that.Obama wanting to keep his worship private to me means he is more sincere–and I don’t care who he worships or not so long as he pursues what I view as correct policies as president. He is doing OK. Could be better, but, then the Republicans “just say no” agenda is just not a good fit for me.

  • APaganplace

    To be honest, if anything, he’s beginning to sound *too* ‘Christian’ to me. I voted for him as the dude we needed right then, but he’s apparently not ‘Pagan’ enough to keep his promises about my life as a queer American. No illusions that the GOP will or ever would do any better, but he made promises. I didn’t think they were conditional.

  • areyousaying

    How can Glenn Beck Christians keep parroting “Obama is a Muslim” and justify this lie with their own Ninth Commandment?