A Religious Test for the Presidency

We all know there is no religious test for the U.S. presidency. But there should be.

We need a religious test for the U.S. presidency.

The Constitution mandates that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.' So I am not talking about requiring that the president be Christian or Judeo-Christian or even a believer in God.

I am talking about a different sort of test -- a quiz really. I want to be sure that our future presidents know enough about the world's religions to run our foreign policy, and that U.S. citizens know enough to hold their feet to the fire.

Swirling around the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the question of whether a Mormon is electable.

A recent Gallup Poll found that 24 percent of Americans would not vote for a Mormon for president, and it is hard to imagine that Romney's religious affiliation will help him among evangelical voters, some of whom see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a dangerous cult. I do not care whether Romney is a Mormon or a Protestant or a Hindu. I do care, however, whether he knows enough about the world's religions to serve as our head of state and safeguard our national security.


More than a quarter century after the Iranian revolution, American officials continue to conduct foreign policy as if religion does not matter overseas.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written that she had a gaggle of official economic experts at her beck and call but only one informal expert on religion. Today we continue to appoint ambassadors to Muslim-majority countries without requiring that they have any training in Islamic studies. And according to the Iraq Study Group Report, only six of the thousand employees of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad are fluent in Arabic.

Many laughed when Howard Dean, who now runs the Democratic National Committee, listed Job as his favorite New Testament book. But when Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the Texas Democrat who now chairs the House Intelligence Committee, was unable to say a few months ago whether al-Qaida is a Sunni or Shiite group, my inclination was to cry.

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Stephen Prothero
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