During a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) labeled White House Deputy Budget Director nominee Russell Vought’s religious beliefs “hateful” and “Islamophobic,” vowing to oppose Vought’s appointment on those grounds.
Sanders’s assertion borders on a violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Sanders comments stem from article Vought wrote in January 2016 regarding the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school. The school had fired political-science professor Larycia Hawkins after she expressed solidarity with Muslims in a Facebook post.
Vought defended Wheaton’s decision in an article for the conservative website The Resurgent. In the article, he wrote:
“This is the fundamental problem. Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
During his introductory remarks, Sanders said:
“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world. This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”
As he questioned Vought, Sanders asked if he believed that the statement in his piece was Islamophobic.
“Absolutely not. I’m a Christian and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith,” Vought replied. “That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for Salvation.”
Sanders was dismissive, at one point raising his voice, shouting, “I understand you are a Christian. But this country is made up of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world.”
Sanders continued an inflammatory line of questioning, asking Vought if he believed Muslims “stand condemned”.
“As a Christian I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs,” Vought replied. He maintained that what he’d written in defense of Wheaton was authored by a Christian man with Christian values, regarding attending a Christian school.
Sanders concluded his time by stating:
“I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is really what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.”
Evangelical Christianity says that faith in Jesus is the only way to receive salvation. Sanders insistence that Vought’s beliefs are hateful, and using them as an excuse to keep him out of public office, has left some feeling that Sanders had imposed a religious test.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a statement, calling Senator Sanders’ comments “audacious”and saying “we should expect far more” from him as an elected official. Moore writes:
“Senator Sanders’ comments are breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant—both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine. Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution. No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office. While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution.”
You can see the exchange here:
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