It isn't only Romney's Mormonism that makes Keller twitchy. He frets that Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are "affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity" and that Rick Santorum "comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism." He has "concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction." Above all, he wants to know "if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon . . . or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country."
Liberal elites like Keller are haunted by the specter of right-wing theocracy. When they see Christian conservatives on the campaign trail, they envision inquisitions and witch hunts and the suppression of liberty. They dread the prospect of a president respecting any "authority higher than the Constitution," and regard ardent religious faith as the equivalent of belief in space aliens. "I do care," says Keller, "if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises."
Of course religion can be abused and religious belief turned to evil purposes. Yet far from threatening "the rights and protections" of America's people, religious faith has been among their greatest safeguard. Far from disavowing any book or authority "higher than the Constitution," our presidents place their hand on a Bible and swear to uphold that Constitution -- "so help me God." We have had our religious villains. But vastly more influential have been the American champions of liberty and equality -- from Adams to Lincoln to King -- who appealed to God and the Judeo-Christian moral tradition for the rightness of their cause.
For good reason, the Constitution bans any religious test to hold public office in the United States. No one need be Christian to run for president. But neither should being Christian -- even an enthusiastic Christian -- be treated as a kind of presidential disqualification. "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity," George Washington avowed in his Farewell Address, "religion and morality are indispensable supports." The sweep of American history bears out the wisdom in his words.
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