The Corner

Damon Linker’s Religious Tests for Office

Damon Linker has an op-ed arguing that the faith of a candidate can be a legitimate topic for public discussion. Put at that level of abstraction, I’d agree. But the op-ed suggests that the resulting conversation might not have much usefulness. Consider one of the questions he thinks can fairly be put to candidates:

Do you believe the law should be used to impose and enforce religious views of sexual morality?

America’s traditional religious consensus on sexual morality — which supported laws against abortion and all forms of non-procreative sex, from masturbation to oral and anal sex, whether practiced by members of the same or different genders, inside or outside of marriage — began to break down in the 1960s. The nation today is sharply divided between those whose views of sex are still grounded in the norms and customs of traditionalist religion and those who no longer feel bound by those norms and customs. Given this lack of consensus, the law has understandably retreated from enforcing religiously grounded views, leaving it up to individuals to decide how to regulate their sexual conduct.

The religious right hopes to reverse this retreat. That opens the troubling prospect of the state seeking to impose the sexual morals of some Americans on the nation as a whole. All candidates — especially those who court the support of the religious right — need to clarify where they stand on the issue. Above all, they need to indicate whether they believe it is possible or desirable to use the force of law to uphold a sexual morality affirmed by a fraction of the people.

I guess if that’s really how reporters want to spend their time, they can ask Mike Huckabee if he intends to make a national ban on oral sex one of his priorities as president. They don’t really need to ask where he stands on abortion, do they?

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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