From the onset of his bid for President, Barack Obama was inundated with questions about his faith. The controversial sermons of President Obama’s former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and the claims that Obama is a Muslim, at times, gained more attention and public scrutiny than his political ideology.
While Obama’s religion was a hot-button topic during the 2008 presidential campaign, one must wonder if his religious preference should matter now that he is President? To find the answer to this question, one must examine the laws and ideas on which the United States was founded.
The Requirements to Be a U.S. President: The Constitution of the United States only provides three specific requirements for someone to be President. One must be a natural-born U.S. citizen, either born in the U.S., or born abroad to parents who are both U.S. citizens. Also, one must be thirty-five years of age. Lastly, one must be a resident of the U.S. for fourteen years. Among these tenants there is no mention of a religious qualification.
The First Amendment: This constitutional amendment establishes two key points with regard to whether a President’s religious preference should matter. First, the “Establishment Clause,” which prevents the government from establishing a national religion, or favoring one religion over another. Second, the “Free Exercise Clause” which states that the government cannot infringe upon anyone’s right to believe in a religion. The government also cannot impede on one’s free practice of a religion, so long as its practices do not violate any other laws.
Article VI, Section III: In addition to the presidential requirements, and the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, Article VI, Section III of the United States Constitution delves further into the topic of religion in politics. It states that no religious test will ever be used as a means of qualifying someone to hold a political office in the U.S.
Separation of Church and State: Many of the United States’ founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, wrote on the the idea of the separation of church and state. They called for a complete separation, wall, or line placed between religion and the government of the United States.
What does this mean?
Based on the founding principles of the United States and more importantly, its laws, the question as to whether Barack Obama’s religion should matter as President can be summed up in a word: no. The Framers of the Constitution were very clear that religion and politics should not intermingle. The government does not require a President to have a particular religion, nor can it require any religious test as a requirement for office. The Constitution of the United States is also clear that individuals have freedom of religion, and that they have the freedom to practice their religion, so long as that practice does not break any other laws.
Many argue that the United States was founded upon Christian principles, therefore, the Commander in Chief should be a Christian. However, the Framers intentionally excluded religious requirements. The United States is founded on the principles of freedom and democracy, so requiring a President to practice a particular faith would mean imposing certain beliefs on others. These beliefs would also be reflected in laws and executive decisions, creating bias, and disaffecting those without the same beliefs.
President Barack Obama is a self-professed Christian, but based on the laws and principles of the United States, it would not matter if he was a Muslim, Jew, or worshiped blades of grass. The President of the United States is elected by the people, to represent the people. He should be objective and unbiased in all of his decisions, and his religious preference should matter about as much as his choice of Oval Office carpet.