Note: One comment below indicates that Cruz was responding to Carson as inaccurately represented by a reporter. So keep that in mind as you read.
As I have noted before, I like Ted Cruz. His general outlook is the kind of conservatism that I want to see in the White House, and I wish him well. But he whiffed this one.
As you may have seen, Ben Carson was asked if he could support a Muslim in the presidency. He said, no, absolutely not. Forget about it. He was then asked if he could support a Muslim in Congress. He said that would depend on candidate, positions, etc. Now there are some internal tensions in those answers, but unpacking those is not my purpose today. In the uproar that followed, Ted Cruz observed that the Constitution says that there will be no religious test for holding office, and that he, Ted Cruz, is a constitutionalist. Unlike that Carson guy.
But this is simply to partake in the grand secularist muddle, and to do so magnificently, in high style. It confuses questions that ought to be kept distinct, and it separates things that ought to be kept as parts of an organic whole.
Carson was asked if he could support a Muslim in the presidency. He was not asked if a Muslim should be legally and constitutionally eligible for that office. The questions are entirely distinct. A man could, without contradiction, say no to the first and yes to the second. He could also say no to both, but he would then be applying his anti-Muslim views to two separate questions.
So the question before the house is not whether we should make it constitutionally forbidden for a follower of the prophet Mohamed to become president. The question is whether Ben Carson, given a Muslim running, would support that guy.
I don’t think the Constitution should forbid the presidency to people with a creepy laugh. That is not a role the Constitution should have. But I am not going to vote for someone with a creepy laugh. Call this my personal laugh test. Hillary, for example, whenever she is asked a tough question, laughs like one of those nice ladies on the heath that Shakespeare liked to write about. She laughs like she had thought herself completely out of eye of newt, but who then discovered a whole jar of them in the back of the cupboard. So the fact that the Constitution does not factor something in does not mean that I may not factor it in.
My reasons for not voting for someone are entirely up to me. My reasons for endorsing someone for president are entirely up to me. Would I support a Muslim for president? I am with Carson here — no, absolutely not. I wouldn’t do it even if he were that wise Turk that Luther is supposed to have found and endorsed. No, I wouldn’t. And my reluctance would have absolutely nothing to do with the Constitution, contra Cruz.
Well, actually, come to think of it, it would have something to do with the Constitution, but not in the way people usually think about these things. Currently, Muslims are fully eligible to run for president. To take this obvious fact and turn it into a moral obligation on the part of the voter to not care if a candidate is a Muslim is to impose a religious test . . . on the voter.
It is ironic that Cruz visited Kim Davis in Kentucky, supporting her right to maintain her religious convictions in the face of the homo-onslaught — and good on him for doing so — but he then implicitly gives ammo to those who would want Christians to keep their personal moral and religious convictions out of the voting booth. But why must we do that?
In the voting booth, I must both think and act like a Christian. They have not yet gotten to the point where they forbid Christians from doing that, but they are certainly running a game in which they are trying to shame Christians for doing that. And it is unfortunate that someone as bright as Cruz fell for it, and is trying to help run their shame game.
Obviously, because we still have secret ballots they can’t follow us in there (yet) and tell us we are being unconstitutional. This is why they like to steer rather than dictate. They quietly arrange for the ballot to always contain a stark choice between Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, and of course whoever we might write in during periodic moments of high exasperation.
To be a voter is in some sense to hold office. And secularism has no right to impose a religious test on those who hold that office. The people have the right to vote against someone because they don’t like the way his eyes move, because they don’t like his position on the Fed, because they knew him in high school and he was a dweeb then also, because he is a Southern Baptist, because he went to Harvard and talks like it, or because he is a Muslim.
A discussion over a religious test for holding office would be an important discussion to have. In the colonial era that phrase referred to denominational differences between Christians. Do we need to adjust it in a day when one “denominational” distinctive involves skyscrapers and airplanes full of terrified passengers? Sure, let’s talk about it. But a far more important discussion involves teaching Christians how to resist the confusions of those who would apply an “unspoken” religious test, one that prevents the Christian from exercising his faith in his political pursuits. And unfortunately, Ted Cruz in this instance helped to perpetuate this confusion.