Ben Carson, the Constitution, and a religious test for the presidency

It’s been disappointing — depressing almost — to watch intelligent columnists and advocates falling over themselves this week to botch their objection to comments made Sunday by GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson.

Carson was on Meet the Press, where he was asked whether a candidate’s faith should matter to voters. His response? It depends on the faith.

The underlying context is important. Here is the discussion:

Chuck Todd: “Let me ask you the question this way: Should a President’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” [Emphasis mine].

Carson: “Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”

Todd: “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?”

Carson: “No, I don’t, I do not… I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

The key to understanding this exchange, and to why so many of Carson’s critics have made absolute asses of themselves in criticizing him for it, lies in the original question: Should a candidate’s faith matter to voters?

Most analysts who have cited the U.S. Constitution’s ban on a religious test have completely and incompetently ignored those two critical words.

Let me say that I have a lot of respect for many people who have made this blunder. Jonathan Capehart, for example, is one of the most talented journalists in the country, and a respected pundit (10 times better at this than I’ll ever be). ran the deceptive and dishonest headline: “Ben Carson Says Muslims Should Be Disqualified From Presidency.” I like And I’m disappointed in their article, because Ben Carson said no such thing. He said he would not agree with a Muslim’s election as president. He did not say Muslims should be disqualified from running, winning or serving. Just that he wouldn’t agree with it.

In that, he is no different from a majority of Americans who would not agree with an atheist becoming president. A majority (I hope) would not agree with a Scientologist becoming president. Or a Branch Davidian. Or a professional astrologer. That is the electorate’s prerogative, and the Constitution does not prohibit the electorate from considering a candidate’s faith.

Nonetheless, critics of Carson have made a disingenuous appeal to the Constitution and claimed that his comments run afoul of Article VI, Paragraph 3, which reads (in relevant part) “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

There you have it. No one, under the Constitution, can be barred from office by virtue of his or her religion.

And that, folks, has NOTHING to do with what Ben Carson said. Carson was not asked, and did not answer, whether a Muslim should be allowed to run. He was not asked, and did not answer, whether a Muslim should be allowed to win. He was not asked, and did not answer, whether a Muslim should be allowed to serve if elected. The Constitution specifically outlaws a religious test in each of those areas.

But Carson was asked whether a person’s faith should matter to voters. And nothing, nothing in the Constitution prohibits a voter from taking a candidate’s faith into account when casting a ballot. Voters are absolutely permitted to consider a candidate’s religion. The Constitution has NOTHING to say about that, and it shouldn’t. You and I can consider a candidate’s faith. We can consider his race. We can consider his sexual orientation. We can consider his age. We can consider his height, weight, body odor and tooth decay. We can consider whatever factors we want.

If you won’t vote for someone because of his race or sexual orientation, you are, in my opinion, a bigot. But you still have the right to do it. You, as a voter, have every right to take into account whatever factors you want.

So I’m not defending Ben Carson’s position. I am, in fact, not commenting on his position at all. Religion is dicier than race or sexual orientation, because religion is in the realm of ideas, and a candidate’s ideas are fair game for consideration.

I am commenting on the dishonest and disingenuous argument that Carson’s comments run afoul of the Constitution. They do not. At all. Not even a little.

In the report, Judd Legum writes, “In suggesting a religious test for potential presidents — where some religions would be “inconsistent” with the constitution — Carson appears somewhat unfamiliar with the text of the constitution.”

Judd Legum is wrong. Carson did not suggest a religious test for potential presidents in the sense prohibited by the Constitution. He suggested a religious test in a sense allowed by the Constitution: the electorate’s right to consider whatever factors it wants to consider.

Jonathan Capehart wrote: “But what Carson said is even more egregious. Not only did he display a stunning ignorance of the Constitution and one of its basic tenets, but he also is among those whining about religious freedom.” [Emphasis mine].

Jonathan Capehart is wrong on that point. Carson displayed no ignorance of the Constitution. Carson didn’t address the Constitution at all, and he was not in conflict with the Constitution in the slightest.

Look, it’s simple: The Constitution bars the government from blocking a person’s candidacy because of religion. It does not, in any way, shape or form, prohibit a voter from considering a candidate’s religion as a factor. Not even as a disqualifying factor. Period.

Over at NBC News, Pete Williams wrote: “Carson was, of course, expressing his personal view and did not call for barring Muslims from the presidency. But many constitutional scholars say Carson’s view is at odds with the design of the nation’s founders.”

At odds? Not exactly. The design of the nation’s founders, as expressed in the Constitution, is that a person cannot be barred from running, winning or serving on the basis of his religion. The design of the nation’s founders was also that voters decide who they will support. And (let’s hear it again) voters are allowed to consider a candidate’s religion. There’s nothing even remotely controversial about it.

Williams quotes Akhil Reed Amar, a Constitutional scholar at Yale: “One of the most striking features of the Constitution is how it goes out of its way to insist that the federal government is open persons of all faiths or no faith in particular.”

Amar is correct. And nothing Ben Carson said contradicts it. Amar’s statement is presented in support of the assertion that Carson’s view is at odds with the nation’s founders. However, Amar’s comments appear completely unrelated to that point.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement demanding drop out of the race and calling his comments “inconsistent with the United States Constitution.” The Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish-American advocacy group, called Carson’s comments “contrary to the Constitution.”

CAIR and the ADL are simply wrong on that point. Call Carson’s comments whatever you want. But they are not contrary to the Constitution.

I just like to be fair. I’m neither fan nor foe when it comes to Ben Carson. If he doesn’t want to vote for a Muslim, that makes him no different from the majority of Americans who would never vote for an atheist. Hold it against him if you want. Call him an ignorant bigot if you want. But be fair about it! Accusing him of not understanding the Constitution, accusing him of violating the letter or spirit of the Constitution, when in fact his comments are completely consistent with the Constitution, makes his critics look foolish.

Ben Carson answered a question about whether a candidate’s faith should matter to voters. His comments came in that context, not in the context of a religious test prohibited by the foundation of American law.

Nothing Ben Carson said implies a lack of understanding of the Constitution.

The same cannot be said of the criticism directed at him.

[Apologies for the redundancy, but sometimes a point needs to be repeated when it does not seem to be sinking in, and the blunder I’m trying to refute keeps getting repeated in news outlet after news outlet, with no critical analysis in sight.

Also, this post deliberately ignores comments made by Carson since his Meet the Press appearance. I’m not familiar with all of them, save for the assertion that the next president would be sworn on a stack of Bibles, not the Koran. For the record, I think it should be the Constitution, not a holy book].

An attack on the freedom to criticize religion

Yes, a free press was attacked in Paris when gunman slaughtered cartoonists at the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper. But it was not just a free press that was attacked, and not enough people are recognizing that.

The freedom to choose a religion, along with the freedom to choose NO religion, was attacked in Paris. The freedom to criticize a religion was attacked. The freedom to be unbound by the dictates of a faith you do not share was attacked. The statement made by the terrorists was not about foreign policy or domestic policy. It was not about the use of force or respect for state authority.

This was about a group of people who decided that the feelings of their omnipotent friend were hurt, and who took it upon themselves to commit murder because someone ELSE did not follow THEIR religion’s mandates.

And that is unconscionable.

Freedom of religion does not oblige ME to live by the restrictions imposed by YOUR religion (nor does it oblige you to live by the restrictions — or allowances — of mine). If your faith says you can’t spell out the name G-d, well, then, by God, YOU don’t do that. But you don’t get to stop me. You don’t get to stop me from drawing a picture of Mohammed. You don’t get to stop me from picking up sticks on a Friday night, or picking up chicks on a Saturday night (although my wife’s religion might have something to say about that). You don’t get to stop me from eating shrimp or cheeseburgers. You don’t get to stop me from officiating at the wedding of two atheists, two Christians, two Jews, two Scientologists, two men or two women. You don’t get to decide that. And I don’t get to make you eat cheeseburgers or shrimp. I don’t get to make you attend a gay wedding.

Freedom is awesome that way.My Pen

But what happened in Paris — that was an attack on freedom from religion. We were just told, violently, that some ideas are not to be criticized, that when someone is revered by an intolerant few, that person must be respected by everyone, under penalty of death.

No. To hell with you. Not how it’s gonna work.

I have no trouble being respectful of anyone’s faith. Tell me not to make fun of the pope, and I won’t. Tell me not to make fun of the pope or you’ll kill me, and I’m gonna make fun of the pope. Or Mohammed. Or the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society in Brookyn. Or Pat Batcrap Crazy Robertson.

Religion has a privileged position in our society. It’s considered uncouth to mock it unnecessarily. LACK a religion, and you can be presumed immoral. LACK a religion, and you can be presumed arrogant or rude or full of yourself.

Maybe, but we don’t go around gunning people down for questioning evolution by natural selection.

No one else gets the privilege religion does. If you’re a Democrat, you don’t get to demand that people not criticize the Democratic Party. Same goes for Republicans. Same goes for fans of TV shows, musical genres, movies or anything else. You like Star Wars better than Star Trek? LET’S FIGHT! Only in religion do we suddenly tell people, Thou shalt not evaluate and critique what I believe. No matter how ridiculous it is (his strength was in his hair? AYFKM?). No matter how debunked it is (how many animals were on that boat?). We’re supposed to be respectful.

Or die?

No. To hell with you. Not how it’s going to work.

The right time to take a stand

There seems to be an undercurrent of opinion in some circles that black people are not allowed to speak on any issue until and unless they address particular issues within their own community. Concerned about police brutality? You can’t address that until you address black on black crime. Distraught that a seemingly clear case of excessive force resulted in (surprise!) a decision not to indict a cop? You can’t address that until you address the dissolution of black families and the raising of black children without their fathers in the home.

Preacher [Click on photo for source]

This patronizing, condescending, paternalistic attitude toward our black brothers and sisters has to end. We do not get to tell people when to voice their concerns. This is not a matter of “You don’t get to go to the movies until you clean your room.” We’re not their daddies. We don’t get to tell them when to talk or what to talk about.

If LeBron James wants to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, he can and should, and he should be prepared to defend his decision to wear it. The exchange of ideas is how we improve society. Telling him he should wear a shirt that says “Be a better father” is condescending in the worst way. When pro-lifers march for abortion restrictions, do we tell them to take care of the pedophile priest problem first? When the Tea Party marches for limited government, do we tell them to take care of white-on-white crime first? No. Why not? Because it’s irrelevant, that’s why.

Black-on-black crime is irrelevant to police brutality. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. White-on-white crime is irrelevant to securities fraud and tax evasion. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. Latino-on-Latino crime is irrelevant to illegal immigration. You don’t have to fix one to opine the other.

Let’s call it what it is: It’s non-black people putting black people in their place by telling them when they can protest, what they can protest about, and what hoops they have to jump through in order to earn the moral authority to protest to their moral superiors – the non-black elite.

There’s a word for that.

It pains me on a personal level to see Geraldo Rivera, someone I once considered an ally in the fight for equality in America and for fair coverage of racial issues in the media, become such an apologist for racist attitudes masquerading as deeper social concerns.

No one is excusing black-on-black crime. No one is excusing the deterioration of the family unit (among all races). But no one, NO one, has the right to tell black America “you can’t complain about this until you take care of that.”

Who the hell do you think you are?

Where’s THAT T-shirt?

Note: This post was written on my time and expresses my opinion. It does not reflect on my employer or my previous associations in any way.

Stepping into grand-parenthood: I’m gonna be a WHAT?

Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, Andy will be born.

Andy is the first child of my stepdaughter, Kayla. So he’s my…

Well, wait, what is he? I mean, to me? And what am I to him?

Biologically, nothing. But in reality, quite a bit. Andy will be living with me and my family (at least for the time being). He will be like a little brother to my sons (his uncles). My wife is his biological grand… I don’t know if we’re allowed to use that word. I think we’re going with “Mee-ma.” Or is it “Mimaw”? I don’t know. How do you spell a word that doesn’t really exist? However you want, I guess.


So my wife is going to be a Memaw. And my sons are going to be uncles. And Kayla’s father is going to be a Grampa (or whatever he wants to be called. We haven’t actually discussed it).

Kayla, age 16, holding her little brother Leo. This photo is from February 2009. The next baby Kayla holds will be her own.

Kayla, age 16, holding her little brother Leo. This photo is from February 2009. The next baby Kayla holds will be her own.

And Kayla is going to be a mom. Holy cow. That little girl who called me “Homie G” when we first met and who was just 14 years old when she and her kid sister walked their mom down the aisle at our wedding — she’s going to be a mom.


Okay, so what does that make me? Honestly, it makes me not important (in the sense that it’s not about me) and important (in the sense that I am expected to, and intend to, play a positive and constructive role in this little boy’s life). At the same time.

Personally, I think it is a bit presumptuous for me to be called “Grampa” or any variation of that. My stepdaughter has a father who loves her and has been supporting her. He is Andy’s Grampa, and I do not intend to take that away from him.

So what name do I get?

My wife suggests “Lito.” It’s short for “Abuelito,” which is what Spanish speaking people call their grandfathers. I like it. It’s affectionate and personal without intruding on Grampa’s turf.

I’m gonna be a Lito!

Congratulations Kayla and Andrew. You’re going to make great parents. We’re all proud of how strong you have been, and we know Andy is going to be lucky to have you as parents. Just as soon as he gets here. Which is, when, again? Tonight? Tomorrow? Soon. Any day now.

I can’t wait to meet him.

Flowers are red, fingernails are pink

My son Angelo, who’s 3, insisted this weekend that his mom and his sisters paint his nails. It was a lovely shade of pinkish, on the darker side. Not quite red. I don’t know what to call it and didn’t think to ask. All I know is, it was on my son’s fingernails, and I groaned a little.

It’s not the first time Angelo has blurred the gender line. Earlier this summer, he insisted his mom buy him a “Frozen” cap with Elsa’s hair sewn into it. And a T-shirt with Elsa’s image on it. My wife found a blue one.

He wore that thing at Disney World. And he loved it. And so did we.

Now don’t get me wrong. Angelo typically wears boy stuff. Ninja Turtle shirts. Batman raincoat. Iron man shoes. Mickey Mouse shirts (no interest in wearing Minnie or Daisy items). But every now and then, Elsa.

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

But something happened Monday night my wife and I were not prepared for. Angelo was lying down next to my wife, and he said to her, “I don’t wanna wear nail polish.”

“Why not?” my wife asked.

“Nail polish is for girls.”

“Who told you that?”

Angelo said his preschool teacher told him nail polish is for girls. He repeated the accusation to me. And I have to admit, I was pretty upset about it. So was my wife.

Now, let me get this out of the way: the teacher denies this, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. We know Angelo’s teacher to be a wonderful, dedicated and compassionate person. We have no idea why Angelo said what he said, but 3-year-olds have been known to misinterpret what they hear from adults. Whatever. It’s not the point, and we love Angelo’s teacher and school.

But whatever the source was, Angelo felt criticized for showing up at school with painted nails. And that makes me uncomfortable.

If my son wants to wear nail polish, that is his business. He’s 3. He’s not declaring his sexuality. He is not rebelling against gender politics. You know what he’s doing? He’s looking at painted nails and saying “Cool! Can I try that?” And we’re saying yes. Because if my son wants to go to school with dark pink, light red nails, he is going to school with dark pink, light red nails.

And an Elsa hat with a wig attached. We want our son to feel free to express himself, to let us know who he is, not to mold him into what he “shalt” be. We are not going to change who he is by suppressing his self-expression, but we will be able to love and support him more completely if we allow him to be himself.

We removed the nail polish Tuesday morning, and that made me a little sad. Not because I want him to wear it. I don’t, to be honest. But I want him to decide on his own that he doesn’t want to wear it. Otherwise, he’s being less than who and what he wants to be. “If you want to put it back on or pick another color, just tell us,” I said to him as we finished.

Maybe he’ll go with green next time.

One of the saddest songs I ever heard is called “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin. It’s about a little boy who colors flowers using every crayon in the box, and the teacher who successfully “straightens him out” by instructing him that flowers are red and leaves are green.

In case that description is too subtle, here’s a spoiler: The teacher is the villain in this song, and the child is the victim.  There’s nothing subtle about it. There is a correct answer to “what are the letters of the alphabet?” and “what is two plus two?” There is, however, no correct answer to “what colors do you want to use for your art?”

Or your fingernails.

Charlo Greene’s Stunt: This Is Why They Call It “Dope.”

I was going to write a post on the Baked Alaskan, but I don’t think I could do a better job than Jeff Winbush. For the record, he and I appear to have come up with the “Baked Alaskan” moniker independently.

The Domino Theory by Jeff Winbush

“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘baked Alaskan.’ Get it?”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Charlo Greene , the Alaskan-based, pot-puffing ex-reporter who set her career on fire by disclosing she was the owner of a pro-marijuana “cannabis club” while dropping a F bomb on live television as she quit before she could be fired.

There are two things I wonder about Ms. Greene’s self-exile from the ranks of professional journalism:

1. I wonder if Ms. Greene should send a workshop proposal for the next National Association of Black Journalists convention on How To Leave A Job With Absolutely No Tact, No Grace and No Class and Not Only Burn Your Bridges But Blow Them the Hell Up.

2. By figuratively, if not literally showing her behind, in pulling such a brain-dead stunt does Ms. Greene think she helped her cause or trivialized it by making herself look ridiculous?


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They’re coming for your children! And so are Satanists!

When you take something seriously, it is sometimes difficult to tell when you are being mocked.

In no area of life is this more evident than it is in the field of religion. Tell a devout Christian that there is no God, and the Christian will respond with assurances that you are wrong. But tell him you are a Satanist, and he thinks you really believe in and worship the Dark One.

Rationally speaking, there is no such thing as a Satanist. A person who truly believes that there is a spirit being named Satan who opposes the Creator God of the Old and New Testaments would never worship such a being, for to do so would be to deliberately enlist in the losing side of a war.

There are words for people who believe in a literal Satan at work in this world. Those words are Christian, Jew and Muslim. Not Satanist.

Whenever I encounter someone who calls himself a Satanist, I chuckle. This person is not a “Satanist,” the way a devout Christian would describe such a person. He is an in-your-face, obnoxious atheist. Not content to carry the banner of “skeptic” or “unbeliever,” the Satanist intentionally presses buttons to antagonize those who believe in the Islamo-Judeo-Christian God.

If you don’t feel intimidated by the idea, visit the Church of Satan website, and you’ll quickly learn that Satanists are not what Christians portray them to be.

“To us, Satan is the symbol that best suits the nature of we who are carnal by birth—people who feel no battles raging between our thoughts and feelings, we who do not embrace the concept of a soul imprisoned in a body. He represents pride, liberty, and individualism—qualities often defined as Evil by those who worship external deities, who feel there is a war between their minds and emotions… Man—using his brain—invented all the Gods, doing so because many of our species cannot accept or control their personal egos, feeling compelled to conjure up one or a multiplicity of characters who can act without hindrance or guilt upon whims and desires.”

Did you catch it? The simplicity is a bit disarming. “Satan,” to the Church of Satan, is a symbol, not a real being. They don’t worship “Satan” for the simple reason that they do not believe Satan exists. They do not believe in supernatural beings, at all.

Let me insert an asterisk here: There are all sorts of wacky beliefs about all sorts of supposed gods, so when I generalize about Satanists not believing in a literal Satan, I do so fully expecting that somewhere out there is a silly (and for all I know quite dangerous) sect of people who really do believe in a literal Satan and choose to worship him anyway. Then again, I know people who voted for Sarah Palin, Ross Perot and Walter Mondale on purpose. What can I say.

By and large, when “Satanists” emerge in the public sphere, it is far more likely that they are atheists trying to make a point than worshipers of a literal Lucifer. Atheists have been known to invoke the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” as God in order to mock theists. “Satan” takes the affront one step further, from mockery to downright antagonism.

And good Lord, does it work!

satanic17n-1-webWitness the reaction to reports that a group calling itself “The Satanic Temple” wants to distribute “satanic” literature to public school children in Orange County, Florida. Outrageous, right? Well, yes, and that is their modus operandi – to instill outrage. To what end? Well, in this case, their goal is rather transparent. They are seeking to protest the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren by advocating the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren.

Rush Limbaugh would (or should) recognize it as an example of “demonstrating absurdity by being absurd.”

It. Is. Brilliant.

“Prayer warriors, unite!” one friend wrote on her Facebook page. And while I completely respect my friend’s right to express her religious views and concerns, I can’t help but feel that she completely missed the point. In short, she did not realize or recognize that her religious beliefs were being exploited and mocked for a legitimate purpose.

It turns out that the school board in Orange County has permitted “World Changers of Florida” to distribute Bibles in schools, then allowed an atheist group to distribute materials earlier this year.

The Satanic Temple rightly recognizes that the school board cannot discriminate against any group on religious grounds, so they are seeking to distribute something called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

According to the book, Satan can only be appeased by blood sacrifice. Otherwise, he is unable to welcome those who have previously acted against his interest in the world.

Oh, wait, that’s not what the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities says about Satan. It’s what the Bible says about God. An easy mistake to make.

No, the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities includes admonitions about friendship, respect and freedom.

It should offend Christians that Satanists want to distribute this book to children. Children are not old enough to appreciate the satire being aimed at religious adults who see nothing wrong with using the state to promote a religion they like, but whine like sacrificed goats when the state is used to promote a religion they don’t like.

Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that some other religious group is going to use that school as a recruiting ground. And non-Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that Christians are going to use that school as a recruiting ground, too. It works both ways.

Why exactly is it that any Christian group would want to distribute Bibles in a public school? Why not select a private place where adults gather, such as, I don’t know, a church? If a religious group wants to recruit new members, why go to a public school? Why not go to a playground, where there’s a good chance the children’s parents will be there? (Oh, that’s it, isn’t it?)

Give credit where it’s due: Jehovah’s Witnesses (who are not seeking to distribute their materials in public schools) at least have the integrity to knock on doors and speak to adults about their faith. They don’t come after your children when you’re not looking.

The way I see it, the solution is not that difficult. If you don’t want state resources co-opted to promote every religion, you stand against state resources being co-opted to promote any religion (including atheism). Problem solved.

Recommended reading: Dear Oklahoma: Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan.