At Russell Vought’s Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did everything he could to undermine Vought’s chances at being confirmed as the United States’ next deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. This isn’t surprising since Vought has deep ties to groups Sanders opposes — such as Heritage Action for America, where Vought worked as the influential organization’s vice president — but Sanders’ approach (attacking Vought’s religious views) has both conservatives and liberals lining up against him.
During the hearing, Sanders questioned Vought’s qualifications to hold public office because of previous statements he made about Muslims and their salvation. Writing for the Resurgent, Vought said, “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.”
Sanders called the position “indefensible” and “hateful,” adding, “It is Islamophobic. And it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
Vought defended his position, pointing out repeatedly that he’s a Christian who holds fast to orthodox Christian beliefs, including the belief Jesus is the only way to salvation.
“I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith,” Vought said. “That post … was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation.”
Sanders interrupted Vought multiple times, eventually yelling, “I understand that you are a Christian!” and saying, “There are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
The hostile attack on Vought for holding to the exact same view held by literally billions of Christians living over 2,000 years, including many Christians who founded the United States, was met with criticism from both conservatives and liberals concerned Sanders had effectively violated Article VI of the Constitution by mandating a “religious test.”
Article VI reads in part, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
According to a report by CBN News, Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “Senator Sanders’ comments are breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant—both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine.”
Evangelical Christian leader Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook, “Is Bernie Sanders right? NO. Is he wrong? YES. Is Russell Vought politically correct? NO. Is he right? YES! Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to Father except through me.’ End of discussion.”
Writing for the left-wing Atlantic website, Emma Green also criticized Sanders, saying, “It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. Sanders used the term ‘Islamophobia’ to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing, Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.”
Green continued, “This is the danger of relying on religion as a threshold test for public service, the kind of test America’s founders were guarding against when they drafted Article VI. … As the demands for tolerance in America become greater, the bounds of acceptance can also become tighter. Ironically, that pits acceptance of religious diversity against the freedom of individual conscience.”
Of course, not everyone came to Vought’s rescue. Scott Simpson, the public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates, supported Sanders’ assertion.
“This isn’t some personal expression of how he feels in his heart about theology. … We’re very sensitive to the concept of religious liberty, because Muslims’ religious liberty is under attack every day,” Simpson said, according to a report by NPR. “But we’re talking about something very specific. … When a nominee calls the faith of millions of Americans deficient, that is something that should be questioned. That is what hearings are for.”