Racial Equality

Memo To Sen. Kennedy: Religious Tests Are Illegal In America

  Rob Boston

As Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser noted yesterday, U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-La.) badgered Hampton Dellinger, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, about his personal religious beliefs.

This was highly inappropriate, and it also runs afoul of a section of the U.S. Constitution that specifically states that there can be no religious test for public office.

The exchange occurred Wednesday during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee after Kennedy began aggressively questioning Dellinger about a tweet Dellinger issued years ago in which he observed that most attempts to ban legal abortion come from Republican men.

After lecturing Dellinger about abortion, Kennedy demanded to know, “Do you believe in god?” Dellinger attempted to reply that he is a man of faith, but Kennedy continued to talk over him. (You can see the video here at 2:07:12.)

There’s a question I’d like to ask Kennedy: Have you read Article VI of the U.S. Constitution? If you’ll take the time to do that, you’ll see the following: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Let’s be clear about this: Whether Dellinger worships one god, five gods, 20 gods or no god has no bearing on his ability to be a lawyer for the U.S. government. Asking people about their religious beliefs during a job interview is illegal in most instances – and it’s certainly inappropriate for a government position.

What’s even more galling is that Kennedy was one of the GOP senators who went ballistic in 2017 after U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Amy Coney Barrett, who at that time was under consideration for a federal judgeship, some admittedly clumsily worded questions about how her religious beliefs might affect her rulings.   

Guess what? If Kennedy believes it wasn’t all right for Feinstein to question Barrett about her faith, it’s not all right for Kennedy to do it to Dellinger. There’s a word for believing that it is, as Laser noted yesterday – “hypocrisy.”

“In a democracy that values the fundamental American principle of church-state separation, U.S. senators don’t get to ask a nominee for public office whether they believe in god during a Senate hearing,” Laser said. “That’s a flat-out violation of our Constitution’s promise that there is no religious test for public office. It’s also grossly hypocritical to witness Sen. Kennedy, who claims to be a champion of religious freedom, so blatantly deny that freedom to others.”

Sen. Kennedy, you owe Hampton Dellinger an apology.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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