The Matter with Kansas

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Strictly speaking, the constitutional ban on religious tests for office only prohibits the government from erecting religious barriers to public office, such as a requirement to swear to one’s belief in the Trinity. But the ban has over the years cast a penumbra, casting into disrepute efforts to make candidates’ religion (or lack thereof) a basis for denying them electoral success. The American Party of the 1850s has gone down in history as the Know-Nothing Party because members were ashamed to admit that its principal plank was anti-Catholicism, and so when queried about the organization answered that they “know nothing” about it. The evangelicals who voted against Mitt Romney in the Republican primaries this election season because of his Mormonism are not considered to have behaved according to proper American norms.
But how do we feel about those who gin up opposition to a co-religionist running for office, on the grounds that the candidate’s religious views are insufficiently orthodox? By penumbra standards, that would seem to qualify as a religious test for office. At the same time, when those doing the ginning happen to be the leaders of a religious community, then the free exercise clause of the First Amendment entitles them to govern that community as they see fit.
Sibelius.jpgWhich brings us to the case of Kathleen Sibelius, governor of Kansas and possible running mate of likely Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Last month, Sibelius was publicly chastised by Kansas City archbishop Joseph F. Naumann for her pro-choice actions in gubernatorial office. Novak.jpgYesterday, columnist Robert Novak sought to stick a shiv in Sibelius’ vice presidential aspirations by casting her as the “poster girl” for abortion rights in America. Novak, who converted to Catholicism a dozen years ago, has taken more than a passing interest in the bitter abortion struggle currently going on in Kansas.
Pro-choice Catholic politicians have been a common part of the landscape in America ever since Roe v. Wade, and they have included Republicans as well as Democrats. But in recent years, Catholic church hierarchs have increasingly made abortion the critical litmus test for receiving their nihil obstat. Above all, the idea of having a pro-choice Catholic elected as either president or vice-president seems unacceptable. It’s kind of a religious test for office. And I’m kind of unhappy with it, especially when the lay likes of Novak get into the act.

  • Asinus Gravis

    I should have thought that attracting such attention from political assassain Novak would considerably help the cause of Kathleeen Sibelius.
    It certainly does nothing to suggest any character improvement on Novak’s part.
    He is near the bottom of the list of those from whom I would expect to find religious instruction or guidance.