“Religious liberty” advocate Ted Cruz says atheists aren’t fit to be president

Not only did Ted Cruz fail to repudiate Kevin “Kill the Gays in Public” Swanson and back out from the Evangelical leader’s hatefest this weekend, the self-described “religious liberty” advocate used it as an opportunity to reject the premise of religious liberty entirely.

During a question and answer session with Swanson, Cruz answered literally the first question he was asked by declaring that atheist cannot be president (answer comes at the end of the video):

Said Cruz, when asked if religion was an important quality for a Commander-in-Chief, “Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this nation.”

Of course, we’ve already had secular presidents; just not ones who were able to declare their secularism openly. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison considered themselves deists, which was about as close as you could get in the late 1700s/early 1800s to saying you didn’t believe in God without getting tarred and feathered. Jefferson, a noted skeptic whose Jefferson Bible cut out all of the superfluous dogma from the King James version to tell Jesus’s story as a secular source of wisdom, actually faced accusations of being an atheist during his successful campaigns for political office, including the presidency. Madison, while less overtly skeptical, was nevertheless adamant that religion should have no place in the government, and opposed the idea of having chaplains in the military.

I wouldn’t expect Cruz to bring this up, especially not at a conference full of people who earnestly believe that the faithful are objectively better people than non-believers. But let’s be clear: To say that belief in God is a prerequisite for holding public office is as bad or worse than Ben Carson’s insistence that Muslims should not be elected president. At least in Carson’s case, he qualified his assertion by saying that Muslims who reject illiberal, anti-democratic interpretations of the faith would be acceptable. Cruz is making a similar claim with no qualification whatsoever. If you don’t believe there’s a man upstairs, don’t run for president. You can’t do the job.

As Hemant Mehta noted, Cruz stopped short of saying that atheists are disqualified from running for office entirely. Just that he thinks they are incapable of doing the job of president. But, as he continued (emphasis in the original), “just imagine what his reaction would be if Sen. Bernie Sanders said someone who wastes time praying in office wasn’t fit for the presidency. He’d be crying Christian Persecution the second someone handed him a microphone.”

And let’s not forget that Cruz’s abject rejection of religious pluralism comes just as we brace for another iteration of the War on Christmas. A candidate who has a clear chance at becoming the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States thinks that a lack of religious belief disqualifies one from public office, but insufficiently Noel-ified coffee cups are the real affront to religious freedom.

Christian supremacy in full effect.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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