I Will Discriminate
Don Lee is a board member of Religion & Society, Inc., the foundation that publishes the St. Croix Review. This essay was first published by The St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Recent questions about who would, or wouldn't, support a Muslim for president have created quite a hubbub.
Donald Trump has taken heat for failing to challenge an assertion that President Obama is a Muslim. Ben Carson has been denounced for saying that he would not advocate putting a Muslim in charge of this nation. The debate swirls amidst charges of discrimination. This moment offers a golden opportunity to correct some horribly misguided ideas about discrimination and the nature of faith and its role in the public square.
I am a citizen, and it is my job to choose who will hold important leadership positions. It is my duty to make good judgments about the candidates and vote for the ones that will make wise choices for all of us.
Let's be clear - I Will discriminate.
I will discriminate between the wise and the foolish.
I will discriminate between those who share my values and those who despise my values.
I will discriminate between those who have demonstrated commitment to public service and those who appear to have other motives.
I will discriminate between those with strong character and clear personal discipline over those with a history of personal failings.
I will discriminate between those who are healthy and those who are too aged or too infirm to stand the rigors of office.
I will discriminate between the trustworthy and the untrustworthy.
I will discriminate between those who are skillful and experienced versus those who are untested.
I will discriminate between those whose professed religion supports their political positions and our Constitution, versus those who have no faith, or who have a faith incompatible with our Constitution.
Ben Carson's statements about what he would support in a candidate were twisted into a violation of our Constitution's rejection of a "religious test" to hold office. Did Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, really not understand the difference between "would not be eligible" and "I would not support"? For many of us, our beliefs are foundational. Her comments suggest the absurd idea that voters should choose candidates for office without considering those beliefs at all.
Religious faith is not merely membership in a club. It is not a personal trait or an ethnicity. For all of us, our beliefs inform our concept of reality. Some of us believe we are precious creations of a Supreme Being. Others will tell you that we are merely complex chemical concoctions, nothing more. There is a huge variety of belief. Different faiths make different demands, and posit different narratives of reality and moral law. Few things in a public resume have more to say about a candidate than faith as professed, and religion as followed.
In this nation, our officials must be committed to preserving and defending the pluralism that maintains our politics as a vibrant marketplace of ideas. No group, whether minority or majority, may use government to enforce a particular political point of view or set of beliefs. In our nation, even abhorrent ideas can - and must - be freely expressed, and their expression defended, without fear of any official sanction. Religion should not be a litmus test. We cannot allow religion to be a requirement or disqualifier for office, but it is ridiculous to suggest that voters ignore it.
The very ideas of freedom of conscience, personal liberty, freedom of religion, and the Rule of Law are derived from concepts rooted in Judeo-Christian ideas about equality and humility before God. Our basic law is based on Mosaic Law. Our Constitution rests on this foundation. Not all religions are compatible with those premises. Not all religions accept pluralism as a virtue. Not all religions support dissent, and religious freedom. My votes will carefully consider the religions and religious practices of political candidates.
Ben Carson's comments were not about "discrimination," but a statement about his judgment as a voter. They were about who would be best to serve in high office, and be charged with preserving our free society. Voting wisely is a duty we all share. We do well to put aside the labels and silly charges of "discrimination," and take that job seriously. *