The Corner

Politics & Policy

Watch Bernie Sanders Attack a Christian Nominee and Impose an Unconstitutional Religious Test for Public Office

I’d urge you to click the link and watch this exchange between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, Trump’s nominee to be Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. The exchange starts at the 44:20 mark. Here’s my quick transcription:

Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and . . . 

Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

Vought: Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College:

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian . . . 

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . . 

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation. 

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about. 

This is a disgraceful and unconstitutional line of questioning from the man who came close to being the Democratic nominee for president. He’s not only imposing a religious test for public office in direct violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution, he’s gone so far as to label this decent man — who’s seeking to serve his country in a vital role — as “not someone who this country is supposed to be about.” Vought expressed entirely orthodox Christian beliefs. There is nothing “extreme” about his statements, and they mirror the statements of faith of countless Christian churches and schools across the land. Are these believers also not fit for public office? I’ve written that Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God. I suppose that means America’s not “about” me, either.  

It got worse. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland doubled down, attacking the same expression of belief all while absurdly stating that “no one” is questioning Vought’s faith. Leading media outlets need to immediately ask Senator Sanders and Senator Van Hollen if they believe that orthodox, traditional Christians aren’t fit for public office. If there was any evidence at all that Vought had ever violated the legal rights of Muslims, that would certainly be relevant to his confirmation. His Christian faith is not. 

Increasingly, the battle between Democrats and many Evangelicals is becoming a struggle against leftist efforts to treat orthodox Christians as second-class citizens. I can think of few better examples than the exchange above. Christians can and do believe that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” while also defending the fundamental freedoms of all their fellow citizens. That’s how our constitutional republic works. Bernie Sanders would do well to brush up on his civic education and remember that religious freedom belongs even to citizens (and nominees) he doesn’t like. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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