Saturday, September 09, 2017

Are Religious Beliefs Really Off Limits for Voters?


Consider this letter from the President of Princeton University, Christopher Eisgruber.

I am not persuaded at all by these arguments. I wrote the following response.

Dear President Eisgruber:

I could not disagree more strongly with the sentiments expressed in your letter to the Judiciary Committee.

1. Religious beliefs are not, as you claim, "irrelevant" to the qualifications for a Federal judgeship. Would you, for example, be willing to confirm an otherwise-qualified judge who subscribed to the tenets of Christian Identity? (If you are not familiar with this religion, please consult https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Identity .)

2. Beliefs do not magically become off limits to questioning, probing, or otherwise investigating simply because one labels them "religious". As you know, there is significant debate about whether some belief systems, such as Scientology, are indeed religions. There is no bright line separating religion from other kinds of opinions one may hold.

3. It is absurd to claim that Professor Barrett's religious beliefs are not part of her judicial philosophy, when you yourself cite an article of hers that addresses precisely this issue.

4. You also should know that the "religious test" clause in the Constitution was in response to legislation, such as the Test Acts, that made it impossible for members of certain religions to hold public office. This Constitutional clause says nothing at all about whether voters may make up their minds based on a candidate's religious beliefs. Nor does it say that Judiciary Committee members may not evaluate the suitability of a candidate based on what he or she believes.

This kind of posturing is unworthy of you and unworthy of Princeton.

Jeffrey Shallit '79

In addition, I note that polls show that a large percentage of the American public would not vote for an atheist candidate. Why is it that this never merits letters of concern by people like President Eisgruber?

Many religious people want a double standard: the freedom to hold beliefs, no matter how pernicious or unsupported, and the right to never be questioned on those beliefs.

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