I've never been a big fan of Michael Medved's movie reviews. I like him even less as a Religious Right commentator.
Medved recently decided to give bigotry a boost by pointing out why Americans would be wise to reject an atheist as president. Blithely tossing aside the spirit of the Constitution's Article VI (which bans "religious tests" for public office), Medved urged Americans to punish non-believers at the ballot box.
In a column published on the right-wing site townhall.com, Medved lists a handful of reasons why an atheist is not fit to lead America. Let's take them one at a time.
First, Medved argues that an atheist president would be a hypocrite on state occasions where some type of recognition of religion is called for, such as Thanksgiving Day proclamations.
Actually, America's tradition of civil religion offers such watered down and bland religiosity that an atheist probably could lead it comfortably. But if not, he or she could always emulate Thomas Jefferson and refuse to issue religious proclamations. It seems like that's a job for religious leaders anyway.
Medved's second reason is that the American people would feel disconnected from an atheist president, and that would make it hard for the president to be effective. He overlooks that Americans feel disconnected from presidents pretty often – but usually for political reasons. President George W. Bush is a very religious man, but 70 percent of the population tells pollsters they don't approve of the job he's doing.
My guess is that if an atheist were elected and managed the economy well, kept our nation out of unnecessary wars, addressed global warming and dealt with the host of domestic and international problems we face, the American people would be content. The people want results, not a steady stream of bland, civil religion pablum.
Medved's final reason is his most unusual: An atheist president, he argues, would anger Islamic terrorists who could then argue convincingly that America is indeed an infidel nation.
Of course, Muslim extremists won't be happy unless we elect a Muslim extremist as president. A woman president would raise their ire because women are supposed to stay home and do what men tell them to. A Jewish president would infuriate them because they hate Jews. So we shouldn't elect women and Jews either, right?
I can't speak for Medved, but I have no interest in voting in a manner that appeases terrorists. We will defeat these extremists not by giving in to their demands but by showing them that America is an inclusive, tolerant society with a better way of doing things.
Medved should take a lesson from John Leland, a Baptist minister and contemporary of Jefferson. More than 200 years ago, Leland boldly attacked laws in Virginia that limited public office to certain types of Christians.
"If a man merits the confidence of his neighbors in Virginia, let him worship one God, twenty Gods or no God," Leland wrote. "Be he Jew, Turk, Pagan, or Infidel, he is eligible to any office in the state."
I say two thumbs up for Leland, two thumbs down for Medved.