GOP presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson announced on Meet the Press last weekend that he did not think a Muslim should become President of the United States. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” said the candidate who has ranked second to Donald Trump in polls. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Thanks to our Constitution, Ben Carson has the right to express that odious, bigoted view. And thanks to the very same Constitution, no law could ban Muslims from seeking any office in the land.
Article VI provides: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That’s because so many of our founding fathers and mothers were fleeing religious persecution elsewhere, and tolerance was important to them. Even prior to the American Revolution in 1776, we were a religiously diverse place, with Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims coexisting in the colonies – not to mention Native Americans with their indigenous faiths and African slaves with their varied religious beliefs.
Dr. Carson’s comment put him in opposition to not only the plain language of the Constitution, but also our proud history as a country that welcomes people of all faiths (or no faith) and our core American value of inclusion.
The Donald: Deportation gone wild
Donald Trump then tried to one-up Dr. Carson, seeming to approve of the idea that millions of American Muslims should be deported. At a campaign event, a supporter said, “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American.”
Trump, who was a driver of the “birther” movement, which falsely claimed Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., allowed the man to continue.
“We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question,” the man went on. “When can we get rid of it?” That “it” appeared to refer to the “problem . . . called Muslims.”
Mr. Trump seemed to back the questioner with this friendly response: “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. And you know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there,” he said. “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
While much of the media latched onto the erroneous and persistent accusation that President Obama is a Muslim, far more insidious was the idea that we have to “get rid of” our Muslim friends and neighbors—as if that’s something to “look at.” (This is of a piece with Trump’s key campaign platform to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants – perhaps by train? A forced march to the border? At gunpoint?)
The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution provides:
“ . . . nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Driving out American citizens on account of their religion, race or national origin would be a crystal clear example of an unlawful violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
And, of course, the idea is a repulsive affront to the core value of equality for which over 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War, which resulted in the abolition of slavery and the codification of equal rights in the Fourteenth Amendment. There was a time in America when human beings could be rounded up based on their membership in a disfavored group. That time should remain relegated to the history books. It’s appalling that the GOP frontrunner would cozy up to such a horrific concept.
Mr. Trump has advocated unconstitutional ideas before. Babies born in the US should not automatically become citizens, he’s said, calling them “anchor babies.”
Except, the Constitution says otherwise, in plain language. Again, our cherished Fourteenth Amendment:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”
This clause was enacted to reverse one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in US history, the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which held that birthright citizenship did not apply to the children of slaves. After the north won the Civil War, this language was added to the Constitution to make clear that all African Americans, freed slaves and other humans born on American soil were in fact citizens—end of discussion.
Decades later, the Supreme Court affirmed that all children born in the U.S. are now citizens (aside from those born to foreign diplomats and invading armies) in the 1898 decision U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. In that case, a man born to Chinese parents living in the U.S., who had spent all his life in this country, traveled to China briefly. When he attempted to return to the States, he was denied entry. (Anti-Asian racism was at a fever pitch at the time.) The high court held that Mr. Ark was a United States citizen, as were all children born to immigrants living in the U.S.
The matter is legally settled. That is, if you believe the Supreme Court is entitled to interpret the Constitution. Which brings us to GOP presidential Mike Huckabee, who remarkably does not.
Huckabee vs. the Supreme Court
After the Court ruled last summer that the Constitution supports LGBT marriage equality, Mr. Huckabee said: “Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law as well as enforce it.” In a USA Today op-ed, he continued his theme: “As president, I will never bow down to the false gods of judicial supremacy.”
Since 1803, when the Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison based on Article III of the Constitution, the concept of judicial review has been bedrock American law. US courts have the power to review laws and strike them down when they violate the Constitution, which has happened innumerable times in the two centuries since. Marbury reinforced another core American value: the division of government into three separate and co-equal branches: the executive, legislative and judicial. Too much power in the hands of one branch is dangerous, our founders understood. Three branches, each with limited powers, is the basis for more prudent stewardship of our country. This is surely one of the least controversial aspects of American government.
It’s deeply disturbing that, if taken at their word, these conservatives would undo so many long-held American principles so firmly enshrined into our laws and history. Religious tolerance, equality of all people, separation of powers—these define us as a people. While we have many shortcomings, these are values of which we can truly be proud.
And each of these candidates seeks the presidency, an office that would require them upon taking office to swear an oath to support the very Constitution of the United States with which they have so often disagree. Perhaps they will take issue with that Constitutional requirement as well?