Trump’s Nominees Should “Plead the Sixth” When Senators Interrogate Them About their Faith

March 15, 2019
FLI Insider | Religious Test | First Liberty

When you think of your first freedom, you probably make an immediate connection to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

After all, that’s the cornerstone protection that guarantees your right to live out your faith.

But there’s one more thing in the U.S. Constitution that may not be evident at first sight.

In fact, the only other reference to religion in the Constitution is found in Article VI – a provision stating, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

And as President Trump continues to nominate more people to fill federal vacancies, Article VI is likely going to become a staple reference in a nominee’s confirmation toolkit.

That’s because today a new trend is emerging in which opponents zealously target people of faith and aim to disqualify them from serving in public office. Even certain Senators seem to be picking up the nasty habit, badgering nominees about their religious beliefs.

In light of all this, our expert legal team is giving you an inside look at how to counter these unconstitutional religious tests.

Asked About Your Beliefs? Then “Plead the Sixth.”

Let’s begin by taking inventory.

Recently, judicial and executive branch nominees have appeared before the U.S Senate for confirmation hearings, only to encounter certain Senators who hound, pound and – dare we say – outright interrogate them about their religious beliefs.

Here are several examples:

Religious Test | Diane Feinstein | First Liberty

  • Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Neomi Rao – nominated to fill the appellate court vacancy left by Justice Brett Kavanaugh – about her religious views on marriage. Sen. Cory Booker asked her whether she thought certain marriage unions were “immoral” or “sinful” – to which she responded by clarifying that she would set aside her own views and uphold the law when deciding cases.
  • Again, during the confirmation proceedings of now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Cory Booker posted a lengthy Facebook remark mocking and calling into question the religious beliefs of President Trump’s nominee.
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein specifically chastised then-nominee Amy Coney Barrett – now a judge in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals – regarding her faith, stating: “The dogma lives loudly within you and that’s a concern.”
  • Current Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, had to endure a heated exchange with Senator Bernie Sanders about his religious beliefs and his affiliation with a Christian college.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Mazie Hirono took issue with Brian Buescher – nominated to fill a district court seat in Nebraska – and his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization.
  • In another instance, Sen. Kamala Harris also questioned now-district court Judge Peter Phillips about his membership in the Knights of Columbus and whether his affiliation with that group would interfere or influence his decisions as a judge.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse pressed now district Judge Trevor McFadden about statements that his pastor had made about marriage, asking if his pastor’s comments would conflict with the nominee’s application of the law.

So, what’s the best way to counter this?

The solution is simple, really: “Plead the sixth.”

It’s a response taken directly from Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

When Senators – or any government official – pounce and pound on judicial or executive branch nominees due to their religious beliefs, the appropriate response is to politely decline by stating: “The question you are asking is impermissible because its premise asserts a religious test for office, in violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.”

Why Religious Tests are Harmful to All Americans

At first sight, we might be tempted to brush off the above incidents as anomalies; nothing more than one-off occurrences. But these simple incursions have a way of snowballing and before you know it, they’ve become the toxic norm – a harmful “business-as-usual,” so to speak.

And what are the aftereffects?

For one, it blacklists any American who associates with a religious organization, or who serves in their house of worship, or who lives according to their religious beliefs, essentially disqualifying them from serving in public office.

What’s more, these “religious tests” also function as kryptonite, turning away qualified people from going into public service.

But all that runs contrary to what the Founding Fathers had in mind. They drafted Article VI understanding that imposing a religious test for office would be a disservice to all Americans, because it would deprive our public institutions of the diverse beliefs and viewpoints that make up our great country.

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