David E. Weisberg
David E. Weisberg

What Rabbi Moline forgot

Rabbi Jack Moline, who is the Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance, a group which celebrates religious freedom, has written a featured post with a rather unwieldy title: “The unconstitutional bigotry of a religious test for Dilawar Syed”.  The gist of the post is that Dilawar Syed, whom the Biden administration has nominated to be deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, allegedly faces problems in being confirmed by the Senate because he is a Muslim.  I say “allegedly,” because nowhere in his post does the Rabbi identify the Republican senators who are supposedly expressing concerns about the nomination, nor does he provide any link to the email in which those concerns were supposedly expressed.

Rabbi Moline tells us that he knows Mr. Syed personally, and he can vouch for the fact that he is a very nice man.  And he quite correctly cites Article VI of the Constitution, which states in relevant part: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”  Nothing could be clearer; the fact that Mr. Syed is Muslim cannot in any way disqualify him from holding any office in the federal government.

What is rather startling about the Rabbi’s post is this statement:

Interfaith Alliance generally does not endorse nominees, but we do call out the misuse of religion for political purposes. And this is as clear an example of abuse as I have seen in some time.

“[A]s clear an example of abuse as I have seen in some time.”  Really?  Permit me to refresh the Rabbi’s recollection.

In 2017, only four years ago, the Trump administration nominated a man named Russell Vought to be the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.  Ordinarily, that nomination would not have generated any controversy; Mr. Vought was a Washington veteran who seemed fully able to perform the numbers-crunching work of OMB.

But Bernie Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont who identifies as a Democrat when he is seeking a presidential nomination but as an Independent when he is running for the Senate, decided that Mr. Vought was unfit for the job.  The reason?  Well, Mr. Vought is a devout Christian, and that made Vermont’s junior senator unhappy.

Mr. Vought is a graduate of Wheaton College, which bills itself as a Christian college in Illinois.  There was a controversy at Wheaton in 2016 when a professor at the college asserted that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”  The college’s administration decided that that assertion was inconsistent with the school’s Christian charter, and the professor was fired.

Mr. Vought, who was not in government at the time, wrote an op-ed about the controversy in which he supported his alma mater’s decision.  In that op-ed, he 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.”

It should go without saying that those beliefs are entirely theological in nature.  They have nothing to do with whether Mr. Vought accepts that Americans who are Muslim have the same rights and privileges as other U.S. citizens; nor do those beliefs imply that, in acting as a member of the Trump administration, Vought would deny non-Christians of whatever faith the equal protection of the law.  But Sen. Sanders had other ideas.

At Vought’s confirmation hearing, Sanders said that Vought’s statement about Muslims was an instance of “Islamophobia” and “racism and bigotry,” and, for that reason, confirmation should be denied.

In questioning Mr. Vought, Sen. Sanders angrily demanded that Vought admit that his statement constituted Islamophobia.  But the senator never once asked the nominee whether his theological views would in any way affect the performance of his official duties or cause him to discriminate officially against anyone.  There was not a single question from Sanders about those issues.  Instead, the senator said: “[T]his nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.  I will vote no.”

Mr. Vought was ultimately confirmed, but that confirmation required the vote of Vice President Pence to break a 50/50 tie in the Senate.  So, Bernie Sander’s negative vote, in clear violation of the oath he took to protect the Constitution—including Article VI of the Constitution—was almost decisive in denying Vought his office.

All this occurred in 2017, when Rabbi Moline was heading up the Interfaith Alliance, which celebrates religious freedom.  I’ve checked their website, and there’s no reference whatsoever to Sen. Sander’s clearly improper vote against Russell Vought.  Could it be that the Rabbi thinks that religious freedom is in jeopardy only when Republican politicians threaten it, but not when Democratic or Independent politicians are the miscreants?  One would hope that that is not so, but one might well wonder.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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