Sen. Ben Sasse Hits Roy Moore Over ‘Religious Litmus Test’

Appearing as a guest on Jonah Goldberg’s The Remnant podcast on Tuesday, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) had some harsh words regarding the state of Alabama’s senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones:

It feels like this Party that I'm a part of has gone post-constitutional in all sorts of fundamental ways — and we saw some of that in the 2016 election. Again, I'm not following Alabama closely, but you look at the Republican candidate there, and it doesn't look like to me that he’s out there advancing any articulate agenda of what conservatism stands for. It sounds like a new kind of identity-based, grievance politics that contradict a lot of the point of E Pluribus Unum. ...

It feels like the Republican candidate in Alabama is also, you know, not persuasive to lots of national politicians, but they just want the important stuff to be power and politics, and we don't know how to talk about what limited government and universal human dignity are about.

So, I think we're getting a new kind of identity politics of kind of white backlash grievance — which isn't surprising that the Right would echo the Left. It isn't surprising if you don't have principles. And it feels like these parties don't have a lot of principles. And the Alabama Senate race looks just that crappy to me. ...

After noting that progressives don’t seem interested in religious liberty and freedom of speech, Sasse talked about how some Republicans seem disinterested in freedom of the press. This led to a critical moment in which Sasse spoke of Roy Moore’s position on Muslims in Congress (emphasis added):

I don't think you can be a good Republican if you're not a great American first. ... I think on the Right, we have lots of people who are disinterested in freedom of the press. You don't ultimately get freedom of the press or freedom of speech unless you understand their relationship to each other.

So to your point on religious tests, if I'm worried — so, I'm an evangelical Christian — and I'm worried about the future of religious liberty, I feel an obligation to defend Sikhs and to defend Muslims on why we believe in principled pluralism in America. And so you can't have people running for office — and again, I don't know the particulars of what Moore has said — but as it's been reported, you can't have people running for office saying that being a Muslim would be a disqualification for being in Congress. The Constitution's pretty dang clear about not having religious litmus tests. And I think the reason you have no litmus test is because we are a First Amendment society where the whole point of our country is that we believe in principled pluralism because the most important stuff can't be solved by government, right?

We want government as the framework that protects all of us to be able to fight for what we think is true, to be able to persuade our neighbor, to invite him to church or synagogue or mosque, and try to persuade people that you're right about theology — and we protect each other's right to be wrong. ... The point of the First Amendment is that we wanna have the ability to say: "I disagree with you about x, y, and z — that's far more important than politics — but I'm going to defend your right to be wrong about that thing," because I believe in the power of ideas. ...

What Sen. Sasse is likely referring to when he speaks of Roy Moore’s religious litmus test is an article the Republican candidate wrote in 2006.

In "Muslim Ellison Should Not Sit In Congress," Roy Moore argues that because Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was sworn in with his hand on a Quran and not a Bible, and because "the Islamic faith rejects our God and believes that the state must mandate the worship of its own god, Allah," he should not be allowed in Congress.

Moore backs up his argument by noting Ellison’s apparent easy relationship with organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Here’s the problem — while an Islamic extremist who might act on his belief that the dictates of the Quran supersede the Constitution would indeed be unfit for office, Moore’s arguments aren’t persuasive considering the fact that there are millions of non-extremist Muslims living in the United States today.

Moreover, while it’s wise to be aware of Rep. Ellison’s connections to the deeply racist and anti-Semitic Nation of Islam (NOI), the Congressman has been able to publicly distance himself from the NOI to such an extent that it would be impossible to tie him irrefutably to its beliefs.

Understanding that this is the case (regardless of whether or not one wants it to be, or believes it to be), one cannot question Ellison’s allegiance to the Constitution in such a way that it wouldn’t be construed as a religious litmus test.

Considering all of this, what Moore suggests in his article is antithetical to Article VI, Clause III of the United States Constitution, which reads in part (emphasis added): "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."


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