Monday, February 18, 2008

Tucker and theocratic tendencies

"(Mike) Huckabee's theocratic tendencies are dangerous, and he shouldn't be on any ticket, even as vice president." --Cynthia Tucker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 18, 2008.

"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. --The United States Constitution, Article VI (emphasis mine).

In the same editorial, Tucker refers to Josiah Bartlet of "West Wing," as "My favorite president ever." Maybe I haven't won a Pulitzer Prize as Cynthia has, but I think if you're writing a serious piece in which your goal is to convince people that Mike Huckabee is unfit to be the Vice President of the United States, you lose a bit of credibility by declaring your favorite president to be a fictional character. By the way, shouldn't everybody in the media, when asked to name her preferred Chief Executive, answer "James Madison"? After all, freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment he drafted.

Tucker calls Huckabee "a country preacher." This raises the question--not brought up in the editorial--could Huckabee Constitutionally be disqualified from holding public office because he's a member of the clergy? That's not exactly covered by Article VI, as one can hold strong views on faith without being ordained.

Where the history of denying clergy the ability to run for public office is concerned, I recommend a reading of the Supreme Court's decision in McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U. S. 618 (1978).

In brief: the Court noted that seven of the original thirteen states--Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New York, and Delaware--disqualified clergy from elected office, McDaniel at 622. An outspoken opponent of this practice was James Madison, Id. at 623-624. Yes--the same James Madison whose First Amendment prevented an establishment of religion, guaranteed free exercise of faith, and promised that future Cynthia Tuckers could write with impunity that someone shouldn't be elected because of his faith.

Madison's opinion gradually carried the day, or as Justice Brennen in his McDaniel concurrence stated:

"When, with the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the strictures of the First Amendment became wholly applicable to the States... earlier conceptions of permissible state action with respect to religion -- including those regarding clergy disqualification -- were superseded." Id. at 637.

Let me conclude with one other point Tucker raises. It's not related to the religious issue strictly, but it's a Constitutional point I'm obliged to address given the title of my blog. Tucker blasts Huckabee as a potential VP candidate because he supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I presume that Tucker has noticed that George W. Bush, the man who actually holds a post a spot higher in our government than the one she hypothetically posits for Huckabee, has also supported altering the Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

And we're no closer to it happening. Whenever anybody talks about amending the Constitution, whether it's President Bush or the loudmouth guy in the local tavern, remember: it takes a whole lot of people to do this. Two-thirds of both houses of Congress have to sign on, then three-quarters of the states, see Article V. That's why I don't get too worked up about any candidate for anything talking about Constitutional amendments, because usually we don't get them, and when we do, they are as clear an expression of the will of the people as we're ever likely to see.

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