Constitution protects rights as a believer, nonbeliever

Published 10:02 am Saturday, September 4, 2010

To the Editor:

Two weeks ago, the Democrat challenger for the 4th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dr. Wynne Legrow of Emporia, revealed in a blog posting on the website that he is an atheist, having no faith in a divine being.

In his posting, Dr. Legrow correctly defends his right as a nonbeliever to represent the 4th District by quoting Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

In simplest terms, Article VI provides that no profession of faith be required to qualify for federal employment, either elected or appointed. It is an important part of the Constitution, one that protects the freedom we enjoy to practice our own individual religious beliefs — or have no religious beliefs whatsoever.

However, Article VI does not prohibit voters from taking into account a candidate’s religious beliefs. As Dr. Legrow has the right to seek election to the House of Representatives as a nonbeliever, as a voter I have the right to select the candidate that most closely matches my own personal beliefs, be they political, economic or religious ones.

It also does not prohibit an elected official from professing their own religious beliefs-or from using those beliefs as the moral compass by which they legislate. The First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” protects an elected official’s right to do just that.

The First Amendment also provides vague reference to what many call the required “separation of church and state.” The federal government mandating that you worship God would be a violation of the Constitution. A congressman professing his own faith in God, and declaring that he legislates based on his or her understanding of God’s principles, would not.

In his post, Dr. Legrow critically points out that U.S. Rep. Forbes (Va.-4th) founded the Congressional Prayer Caucus and led the charge to have our national motto “In God We Trust” engraved in the new Capitol Visitor’s Center.

If we have a national motto, should it not be included in a visitors center at the nation’s Capitol? As an American citizen, does Randy Forbes not have the right to join with like-minded colleagues to pray for divine guidance?

If elected, Dr. Legrow would have to vow to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. The same constitution that protects Dr. Legrow’s right to run for office as a nonbeliever also protects Mr. Forbes’ right to hold office as a believer, and my right to vote for whichever I choose.

Tony Clark