Justice Thomas Believes that Religious Oaths Inhibit Lying. He’s Wrong.

I rarely overestimate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, but this one still caught me by surprise: his recent argument, delivered at Pepperine University, that Christians are more likely to uphoad their oaths of as lawyers:

I think it’s interesting in a profession where we all take an oath, that they would look at people who have strong faith as somehow not good people, when, if you’re an atheist, what does an oath mean? If you are a Christian and you believe in god, what is an oath? . . . You’ve taken an oath to God. . . . [religion] enhances your view of the oath.

Presumably, Thomas would extend this to lawmakers, presidents, judges, police officers, and everyone else who takes an oath of office.

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When I think that Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall, I begin to doubt whether the arc of the universe is actually bending toward justice.

The problems with this are myriad.

First, it’s naive to think that nonbelievers lie or deflect their duties more than people of faith.

Second, liars will break an oath. Requiring an oath to God just rules out people too honest to make one. It doesn’t rule in honest people.

Third, if the only reason you are being honest is because you made a promise to do so, your character is already poor. This is one reason why Jesus tells people not to bother with oaths–to just let your yesses be our yesses and your noes be your noes. Making a promise on top of your plain words suggests that any time you aren’t making that promise, you aren’t required to live up to your word.

It’s also ignorant of the Constitution, which doesn’t require an oath of office for the presidency but permits an affirmation instead.

The founders had the option of creating a religious test for office. If they thought that people of faith were superior politicians, they would have required it. Instead, in Article VI, they specify that what is most important is fidelity to the Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

We settled this at the start. When Justice Thomas says he’s an originalist, he’s lying. And his religious belief doesn’t seem to have prevented it.

 

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