It seems surprising that the Republican Party, the party that promotes a strict and narrow reading of the Constitution, would condemn the Democrats over their exclusion of God from their party platform. Most people are familiar with the separation of church and state derived from the First Amendment that would seem to demand that any mention of God be left out of a party platform. But condemning a party for not including God also violates Article VI of the Constitution that states, in part, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Part of what has turned the electorate away from politics is the empty rhetoric that seems to be grounded only in the aspiration to win office. Politicians, to many disaffected voters, appear willing to say or do anything to claim a space in the electorate that will help them at the polls. As such they appear willing to leave the parameters set by a consistent set of principles. Neither party has a monopoly on hypocrisy, but this most recent episode by the Republicans is a good reminder that even when politicians reference high-minded principles they do so without being bound by them.
Most of us remember the political dust up over the provision in the Affordable Care Act that would force religious institutions to cover the cost of birth control for their female employees. And if you forgot, the Democrats were sure to remind you when they had Sandra Fluke, the then Georgetown law school student who testified before congress about the necessity of such a provision that made her a target for the right wing, speak at their national convention in Charlotte, NC. The Republicans argued against the provision on the grounds that it violated the separation between church and state. This political episode was only one of many in the fight over the Affordable Care Act whose constitutionality was challengend by Republicans on the grounds that nowhere in the Constitution is congress or the president explicitly granted the power to force citizens to purchase a service and create a market out of thin air.
On matters of religion, the Constitution, in no unequivocal terms, prohibits religious tests for public office and the establishment of religion by government. Thus, the Republicans opposition to the intentional omission of God from the Democratic Party platform seems to fly in the face of at least two principles they hold dear: religious freedom and a strict reading of the Constitution. It may not be the most politically expedient thing to do, but if politicians want to restore faith in our governing system they need to stop going for the cheap point and start adhering to a consistent set of principles.
Kyle Scott teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University and University of Houston. His commentary on current events has appeared here and in Forbes, Reuters.com, Christian Science Monitor, Foxnews.com, and dozens of local outlets including the Charlotte Observer, Philadelphia Inquirer, Houston Chronicle and Baltimore Sun.