Conventional wisdom has it that Republicans had best not speak of religion and morality, even when a majority of Americans agree with them. If they do, it is essential to be right on the facts, and it is helpful to be understated. Recent comments by the Dr Carson and the Pope show a huge contrast in political experience in an age of Political Correctness.
The Constitutional Framework
Few principles are as important to the success of America as a nation of diverse immigrants as is religious freedom. Coming from the battles of English religious wars and the persecution of minorities by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Founding Fathers used language which Dr Carson forgot and the Pope understood:
Article VI, paragraph 3 is explicit: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
The First Amendment is more frequently at issue: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The "rookie mistake" exchange with Chuck Todd which got Carson in trouble:
Todd: "Should a President’s faith matter?"
Carson: "Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, no problem."
Todd: "So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?"
Carson: "No, I don’t; I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."
The media obviously loved it. It is not a claim that President Obama is a Muslim; it is not a claim that the Constitution prohibits a Muslim from being president; it is not even a criticism of the President for refusing to acknowledge "fundamentalist Islamic terrorism". It is an opinion held by a majority of voters.
Carson's next-day clarification set a standard for getting beyond political correctness and speaking what the majority of people understand: Sharia law is central to Islam, and is fundamentally opposed to American values - it denies free speech, the rights of women, and the rights of religious minorities. Carson's answer was in the context of the Muslim concept that the state's purpose is to serve the religion. In his opinion, if a Muslim disavowed Sharia law they would be a heretic within the religion, and he would have no problem with their candidacy; he would be equally opposed to either a Christian or a Muslim theocrat.
This is probably too nuanced for Chuck Todd or the New York Times, but in the post-911 age it is important that the country come to understand Carson's point. Unfortunately, the rationale came a day late.
While the bulk of the coverage of the Pope's visit has focused on left-leaning policies where he is aligned with President Obama - climate change; immigration; anti-capitalism - there is a nugget where he has pointedly stood up to the President's trampling of religious liberty in ObamaCare.
In his Wednesday speech, the Pope praised US bishops for their efforts in defending religious liberty “from everything that would threaten or compromise it.” Lest there be any misunderstanding of his meaning, he later made an unscheduled stop at the convent of The Little Sisters of the Poor to show support for their federal lawsuit against the mandate that their insurance policies include contraception.
This provision of Obamacare that would seem to violate the Constitutional provision that no law shall abridge the free exercise of religion has been burbling along since pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan got rolled by Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama in 2009 with a failed promise that he could amend the language of the Affordable Care Act to include a limitation of funding for abortions. At least the Pope threw one carrot to the traditionalists in the American Catholic church.
This election season promises to be full of wedge issues for aspiring politicians to use to gain attention - the Kentucky clerk supported by Mike Huckaby and Ted Cruz; the Planned Parenthood videos described (with a bit of poetic license) by Carly Fiorina; the immigrants condemned by Trump. This is the season where the brand gets damaged, even if the argument is correct. Hopefully the leaders will be fact-based and understated, and the obvious also-ran's will follow Scott Walker's advice and drop out rather than try to out-Trump Trump.
This week's video is a quick summary of Carly Fiorina's top lines from the September 16 debate - the best performance by any candidate at either of the two debates thus far.
bill bowen - 9/25/15