Press Release: Diverse Group of Religious Leaders Reminds U.S. Senators: Religious Tests for Public Office Are Wrong, Unlawful

January 17, 2019, Washington, D.C. — A group of leaders from across a broad spectrum of American religious life urged Senators to pledge their opposition to religious tests of any kind for nominees for public office.

A letter, organized by the Religious Freedom Institute, was delivered to the Senate majority and minority leaders today, the day after the United States celebrated “Religious Freedom Day.”

Signatories included representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints, Sikh, Muslim, Baha’is, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions.

The letter was a response to disturbing comments that Senators Harris, Hirono, Feinstein, and others directed at Catholic judicial nominees. This diverse group of religious leaders reminded Senate leadership that imposing a religious test for public office offends core American principles of civility and freedom and is a clear violation of the Constitution.

Just last month, in fact, Senators Harris and Hirono targeted Brian Buescher, a candidate for United States District Judge, over their concern about his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus. The senators raised questions about Buescher’s membership in a Catholic organization whose beliefs follow those of the Catholic Church. As the letter makes clear, such questions about suitability based on religious belief constitute a religious test.

The letter states, “From its inception, the United States Constitution expressed a commitment to religious freedom, both in the religion provisions of the First Amendment and in Article VI’s ban on religious tests for public office.”

A little more than a year ago, Senator Feinstein challenged Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett’s suitability to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals over Barrett’s devotion to her faith, worrying that “the dogma lives loudly in you, and that’s of concern.”

The letter’s message to Senate leaders is straightforward, “Political rhetoric that questions the loyalty and fitness of candidates for public office based on their religious beliefs is always wrong,” on both moral and constitutional grounds.

“We are profoundly grateful to Senator Ben Sasse for his leadership yesterday in introducing an unambiguous resolution condemning religious tests, and to the Senate for unanimously adopting it,” said Thomas F. Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute. “We hope this letter will serve as a firm reminder to both parties that concerns about religious tests, far from being narrow and partisan, are shared widely by religious leaders and the communities they represent.”

Read the full letter here: Coalition letter to Senators McConnell and Schumer

Media Contact:
Jeremy P. Barker

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.