On this date in 1787, representatives of the states meeting in Philadelphia signed the U.S. Constitution and sent it out to be ratified by those states. Ratification happened on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth of 13 states to ratify it.
One of the important sections of that Constitution (Article VI, Section 3) says, in part, ". . .no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
It's good to remind ourselves that this rule still is in effect.
It's also wise to understand that despite that constitutional ban on a religious test, Americans often want to know about the religious background, if any, of candidates -- and that voters are free to base their judgments about candidates on religious thinking, ideals and goals.
And it's pretty clear that over the years voters often have done just that. That's why political parties, in their nominating processes, sometimes worry about whether a candidate's religious affiliation or lack thereof might be a major factor in whether that candidate can attract voters.
Thus we had Sen. John F. Kennedy assuring voters over and over in the 1960 race that his Catholicism did not mean that the pope would move to Washington and run the country. (That's the kind of bigoted nonsense voters were hearing that year.)
As we think about the 2020 presidential election and other voting between now and then, let's remember that even though the majority of Americans still identify as some sort of Christian, our elected officials cannot be required to pledge allegiance to Christianity or to any other faith tradition. But it's also true that in the privacy of the voting booth (assuming the Russians are in there with voters), voters may pick this or that candidate based on the voter's own religious views.
This is another reflection of the reality that the idea of the separation of church and state is to keep the state out of religion, not to keep religion from having a voice in the public square.
In the fairest of all possible worlds, our system would result in the election of candidates who reflect the growing religious pluralism of the U.S. -- and it's beginning to.
So this is a day to give thanks that the no-religious-test part of the Constitution survived the fascinating debate that created the document and a day to pledge never to repeal it.
(By the way, the cover story of Harper's Magazine this month is a discussion of whether our Constitution still is serving us well. It's worth a read and you can find it here.)
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WHAT KEEPS THEM IN CHURCH?
The story of membership slippage in American (and western European) Christian churches is an old one, dating back at least to the 1960s. And it's sort of been studied to death. But what about the people who've stayed in church -- especially the younger members? Why have they stayed? What's kept them there? This RNS column delves into that in some detail. Pass it on to your pastor, if you have one.