Our most basic freedoms and the integrity of our democracy are at stake in this year’s midterm election. It is essential now more than ever that we hold our candidates for office accountable to our constitution. But some are willing to ignore and even flout our constitutional principles. Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, tweeted on Oct. 21, 2022, that Mastriano’s opponent, Josh Shapiro, is “at best a secular Jew in the same way Joe Biden is a secular Catholic.” Statements like these are unacceptable and harmful to our electoral process. A candidate’s religious faith should never be used to determine their credibility and fitness for office.
No Religious Test for Office
Article VI of the Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. The Founding Fathers outlined a variety of qualifications for public office, including age, citizenship and residency. But they specifically exempted religion from qualifying or disqualifying a candidate. The faith tradition of a candidate is not a legitimate litmus test for determining the candidate’s suitability for public office. Questioning the legitimacy of a candidate’s faith implies one right way to be religious and in public office. That violates religious freedom and the principles of democracy we are called to protect.
Candidates for office invariably bring their personal beliefs and values to their campaigns and the official office they hope to occupy. But there’s a difference between being guided by one’s values, faith-based or otherwise, and determining eligibility according to religious tenets. Elected officials are charged with representing all of their constituents, not just some. Assessing candidates based on their faithfulness blurs the essential line between matters of personal belief and one’s duties as an elected official. Maintaining that separation between religion and government is the only way to ensure that everyone is able to believe as they choose.
Our Officials Should Serve All of Their Constituents, Not Just Those Who Share Their Beliefs
When public officials take their oath of office, they make a promise to their constituents to protect and serve the American people, regardless of who they are and what they believe. Diversity of belief is a source of strength. Leaders who reflect the variety of religious and moral traditions of voters encourage those in positions of power to work across backgrounds and beliefs to build a nation that is truly inclusive.
People of all faiths and none are equal contributors to our shared society and are all eligible to run for office. Interfaith Alliance and religious Americans across the country call on all those campaigning for office to put an end to any rhetoric that implies a religious test for office.
Interfaith Alliance advances an inclusive vision of religious freedom, protecting people of all faiths and none, in service of a pluralistic democracy. Learn more about our work.