The Republicans may have held onto the Senate, but those who still worship Donald Trump still had a lot of reasons for heartburn. One of them came in Arizona, which elected its first Democratic Senator in almost a quarter-century–Kyrsten Sinema. Not only is she the first woman elected to the Senate from the Grand Canyon State in her own right, but she is the first openly bisexual Senator. She is also the second openly LGBT member of that body, the other being fellow Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
The fact that there are now two LGBT Senators should have been reason enough to make the religious right uncomfortable. After all, they went all-in for Trump because he’s supposedly making America Christian again. But there’s another reason the fundies are up in arms over Sinema’s presence in the Senate. She is, as near as can be determined, the only member of the Senate who identifies as non-religious. She opted to take her oath on copies of the federal and Arizona state constitutions.
Watch Sinema take the oath here, via CBS News.
When veteran religious right provocateur Bradlee Dean saw this, he blew a gasket. To his mind, Sinema had no business being there. As far as he’s concerned, if you don’t worship Jesus, by definition you’re automatically disqualified from serving in the Senate–or in any office, for that matter.
Dean doesn’t even try to sugarcoat it in a post at his blog, Sons of Liberty. To hear him talk, Sinema cannot honestly claim to “serve the people” if she “shuns the author.” Nor can she say she “does not love God” and honestly claim to “serve His government on the behalf of His people.” Just in case he didn’t make himself clear, Dean throws in a common smear that has been hurled at atheists and agnostics who seek office.
If she declares that she does not believe in God (Psalm 14:1), then whom does she make reference when it comes to that which is right and wrong, according to law (Exodus 20)?
In Dean’s view, our elected officials serve “God’s government”–and if Sinema doesn’t believe that, “one has to ask where her loyalty lies.” He doesn’t think it’s with America, because he accused her of “undermining American law.” In Dean’s book, Sinema is an “idolater” who has “no business whatsoever serving in the US government in any capacity.”
Most religious right watchers know that deep down, the nation’s so-called moral guardians would like nothing better than to require anyone seeking office at any level in this country to be a Christian. But they usually say something like that in unguarded moments–or at least, when they think no one else is watching or listening. When they admit that’s what they’re really after, it’s rather subtle. For instance, last week E. W. Jackson suggested that Ilhan Omar–one of two Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018–is in her seat because she wasn’t “elected by Americans.”
That’s what makes the times where it bursts out into the open particularly breathtaking. By declaring that worship of Jesus ought to be a requirement for holding office, Dean is openly admitting that First Amendment’s ban on “an establishment of religion” or any attempt at “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” mean absolutely nothing to him. And apparently Article VI’s ban on religious tests means nothing to him either. Simply put, Dean’s argument is no different in spirit from what you’d expect to hear from ISIS, or at the very least the Taliban or an Iranian mullah.
As most religious right luminaries are wont to do, Dean spews a blizzard of quotes from the Founding Fathers that suggest that only Christians are fit to hold office. But how does Dean explain Thomas Jefferson’s authorship of Virginia’s law on religious freedom? That made Virginia one of only two of the original 13 states, the other being Rhode Island, to grant full religious freedom at the state level. All of the other states either had some sort of state church or had religious requirements for holding office. So by Dean’s logic, Virginia and Rhode Island shouldn’t have even been allowed in the Union.
Dean would also do well to read Jefferson’s biography. He recalled that during the Virginia General Assembly’s debate on his religious freedom law, one delegate wanted to effectively limit it to protecting Christians–as was the case at the time in neighboring Maryland. However, that amendment was “rejected by a great majority,” as they knew Jefferson intended to protect all religions–Christian and non-Christian alike.
That’s the very opposite of what Dean wants to do. If he had his way, the First Amendment and the “no religious test clause” would be watered down to the point that you would have to be a Christian to hold office. Frankly, if he believes that, he’s the one who is “undermining American law.”
All things considered, if Dean believes that Sinema should be summarily booted from the Senate if she doesn’t worship Jesus, then it’s not out of line to wonder whether he’s missing his black turban or black mask.
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