Good ol’ Roy Moore is back at it again and he’s playing poker. He’s seeing Dennis Prager’s stupidity and raising it a heaping dose of theocratic insanity. He’s also showing, yet again, his ignorance of American history. Prager only claimed that a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to swear an oath on the Quran instead of the Bible. Moore ups the ante: no Muslim should be allowed to serve in Congress at all. And his reasoning is astonishingly ignorant.
In 1789, George Washington, our first president under the Constitution, took his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.” Placing his hand on the Holy Scriptures, Washington recognized the God who had led our Pilgrim fathers on their journey across the Atlantic in 1620 and who gave our Founding Fathers the impetus to begin a new nation in 1776.
Moore is repeating what is almost certainly a myth. As Jon Rowe notes here, the first reports of Washington saying “so help me God” do not appear until the 1850s. There is no contemporary source that supports the claim at all. Washington did, however, kiss the Bible; that is a Masonic ritual, not a Christian one, and Washington was, of course, a master mason. In fact, the Bible used by Washington in his swearing in came from a Masonic lodge.
To support the Constitution of the United States one must uphold an underlying principle of that document, liberty of conscience, which is the right of every person to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, without interference by the government.
Well yes, I agree completely. And since you are now arguing that no one can be a Muslim and hold public office, you clearly do not uphold that underlying principle, nor do you support the Constitution, which clearly forbids such religious tests for office. But you’re in good company. Many of the people who opposed the passage of the Constitution when it was up for ratification didn’t support the ban on religious tests for office either and they fought against ratification for that reason. At least they were consistent; you’re wrapping yourself in that document while simultaneously undermining it.
Justice Story echoed the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson in his Bill for Religious Freedom in 1777 in which he stated that “Almighty God” (El Shaddai in Hebrew) “hath created the mind free and manifested His supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint.” It was a specific God who endowed us with a freedom of conscience with which government could not interfere.
And now, a little history lesson: when Jefferson’s act was being deliberated in the Virginia Assembly, Moore’s ideological ancestors tried to amend it to make it specifically about the Christian God rather than an all-inclusive one. They failed. And Jefferson later wrote in his autobiography about it and made clear that this principle protected everyone, including Muslims:
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
Jefferson quite explicitly wrote his Act not to be about any specific God but about his own broadly theistic, non-Biblical conception of God. Contrary to Moore’s ignorant claim that men like Jefferson (and Adams, and Washington, and Madison) believed only in the “Judeo-Christian” God and only extended the notion of freedom to those people, these men believed in a universal God and that all religions, when stripped to their core moral principles, acknowledged. That’s why Jefferson could write in a letter to James Fishback:
Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same. These respect vestments, ceremonies, physical opinions, and metaphysical speculations, totally unconnected with morality, and unimportant to the legitimate objects of society….We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions.
It’s why John Adams could write to John Taylor and say that “moral liberty resides in Hindoos and Mahometans, as well as in Christians.” So much for the notion that Moore is following in the footsteps of the founding fathers. So whose footsteps is he following in? Those who tried to kill the Constitution. The religious right of that day hated the Constitution. They believed, like Patrick Henry did, that because the Constitution said nothing about God or Christianity, that it did not acknowledge our reliance upon God, it would bring down His wrath upon us all.
They also believed, and argued loudly all over the country, that the ban on religious tests for office would destroy America because it would allow people other than their own brand of (primarily Calvinist) Christians to hold public office. Madison, in a letter to Jefferson, then in Paris in 1788, notes that in New England there was much opposition to the provision banning religious tests for office because it “opened a door to Jews, Turks and infidels.” In North Carolina, one delegate, a Presbyterian minister, declared that the new Constitution would allow America to be ruled by “Jews and pagans of every kind”.
In Kramnick and Moore’s The Godless Constitution, they quote from a widely circulated article at the time that declared that without religious tests for office limited only to specific types of Christians, the following groups would be allowed to take office:
“1st. Quakers, who will make the blacks saucy, and at the same time deprive us of the means of defence – 2dly. Mahometans, who ridicule the Trinity – 3dly. Deists, abominable wretches – 4thly. Negroes, the seed of Cain – 5thly. Beggars, who when set on horseback will ride to the devil – 6thly. Jews etc. etc.”
During the time of our founding, the only ones who took the position that Moore is now taking are those who opposed the ratification of the Constitution. Yet here is Moore taking the same position as those people while claiming to support that document. This is beyond ridiculous; this is delusional.
Ellison may well, as an individual, not accept the Constitution at all. Many Muslims would argue that one cannot be a true Muslim and uphold the constitution. But many Christians said the same thing when the Constitution was written. Some Muslims are just fine with the Constitution and our basic principles of liberty and equality; some are not. The same is true of Christians. And on the subject of rejecting those whose religion requires them to reject the Constitution, Roy Moore is the last man on the planet who should be doing the talking.