Even before he was elected, there were screeds from the right that Barack Hussein Obama was a Muslim. The evidence? Just look at his middle name and the fact that he spent part of his childhood in a Muslim country. And he keeps his church attendance more private than did his über-Christian predecessor. This is just one of many wedge issues that the right wing actively promotes to divert attention from its ill-advised economic agenda.
The White House spokespeople have been countering by asserting that Obama is a “committed, mainstream Christian”. That’s all well and good, but the educator-in-chief needs to send another, much different message – and send it strongly. That message is contained in Article VI of the Constitution, which unequivocally states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
In the 1960 presidential campaign, many were concerned with John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism. They feared that he would take direction from the Pope, and some of the more extreme elements leveraged the anti-Catholic bigotry that existed in the country at that time. JFK put the issue (mostly) to bed in his eloquent speech in Houston to a group of ministers. In that speech, he said:
“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”
Despite the incessant blare from the Tea Party, America is not a Christian country. It never has been, and never will be. For if it does become a theocracy, then America will cease to exist. Some in the right wing would have us believe that a Jew like Senator Joe Lieberman, a Muslim like Congressman Keith Ellison, or maybe even a Mormon like Mitt Romney is ineligible to be our Chief Executive. We need to emphasize that there is no religious test for public office, and that the opportunity exists for people of all religions and people of no religion. This is the message that needs to be emphasized by the president and his spokespeople.
Twenty years ago, few would have thought that an African American could be elected in a landslide. Twenty years from now, White Protestants may be a minority. Let’s look forward to the time when America has a non-Christian president – based on his or her qualifications, not on what he or she does on Sunday mornings. Barack Obama is not a Muslim. But even if he were, it would not make a whit of difference.