There is nothing funny about religious bigotry.
It is difficult to keep up with all the anti-religious invective being thrown about under the guise of “commentary” these days but the latest example comes from ABC’s The View. Commenting on reports that Vice President Pence prays to his savior and believes his savior “speaks” to him, co-host Joy Behar compared the faith of the Vice President to a “mental illness.”
Ms. Behar demonstrates, yet again, the growing divide between anti-religious, cultural elites and the vast majority of Americans. Indeed, her comments reflect an appalling bigotry not only against the Vice President’s faith, but the faith of many other Christian leaders—including many high-profile Democratic ones. And her suggestion that his religious belief somehow makes him unfit for office amounts to the type of religious test for public office that is explicitly rejected by the Constitution.
How many of our nation’s greatest leaders would fail Behar’s religious test for public office? George Washington’s personal prayer book written in his own handwriting states in part, “… so give me peace to hear the calling on me in Thy word.”
The Father of our nation continued,
“Grant that I may hear it with reverence, receive it with meekness, mingle it with faith, and that it may accomplish in me gracious God, the good work for which Thou hast sent it.”
As far as Ms. Behar is concerned, that’s crazy talk.
In an 1862 address to a delegation from Illinois regarding a difficult decision he was facing , President Lincoln declared:
“I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed He would reveal it directly to me; for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in the matter. And if I can learn what it is, I will do it.”
The man who ended slavery and saved the union also believed he received direct revelation from God. Is Ms. Behar prepared to call him mentally ill?
Perhaps a more recent example would be helpful. One of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most famous prayers did more than merely suggest that God speaks to him. The great civil rights pioneer thought God might actually order and reveal his destiny:
“Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”
Does this make Dr. King mentally ill?
President Obama has said that his own faith deepened through his work with Christians in tough Chicago neighborhoods. At the National Prayer Breakfast in 2009, he explained that “It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose, His purpose.”
Let’s recap: applying Behar’s claims about Vice President Pence to other major political figures, past and present, it seems that the talk-show host believes that two men who are generally considered our greatest presidents, another president whom she often praised, and our greatest civil rights leader were all mentally ill.
Setting aside the obvious intellectual vapidity, cultural ignorance, and ideological inconsistency of Ms. Behar’s religious test for public office, there is one major obstacle to its implementation: the Constitution of the United States.
Our Founders recognized the crucial role faith would play in American life; but with the memory of the Church of England still fresh in their minds, they wisely eschewed an official state church and strictly prohibited any religious test for serving in public office. Ms. Behar would rather dismiss the faithful to a mental health facility for treatment.
But Ms. Behar cannot ignore the facts of history. Our Founding Fathers sought Divine guidance every step of the way as they established the core principles that would shape the destiny of our country. They believed God was listening and thankfully they listened to Him. If not, our country and the world would look very different today—and none of us would enjoy the view.
Lathan Watts and Lea Patterson are Director of Community Relations and Judicial Fellow, respectively, at First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.