Under Article Six, Section Three of the United States Constitution, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The Religious Tests Clause made good sense when it was passed. The Framers had in mind various Test Acts that were a part of British and colonial political life, whose purpose was to exclude from office anyone not a member of the Anglican Church. The required oaths meant that government officials had to swear that the monarch of England was the head of the church. In Silverman v. Campbell, 486 S.E.2d 1 (1997), the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a provision in the South Carolina Constitution providing that “[n]o person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold office under this Constitution,” was not enforceable.
This all makes good sense. It should not matter if a State Court Judge is a Druid, a Jew, an atheist, or a Christian. A judge should apply the law to the facts and reach a decision as dictated by the Constitution and various statutes. I thought this was all settled back in the eighteenth century when Charles Pinckney, from South Carolina (South Carolina!) proposed the Religious Tests Clause at the Constitutional Convention. Well, yes and no.
It is perfectly legal for judicial candidates to use religion to pander to their heart’s content, even if that campaign technique violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the religious tests clause.
In a DeKalb County Judicial Election,Roderick Bridges is making much of the fact that he is a Christian while the incumbent, Judge Dax Lopez, is a Jew. Mr. Bridges is taking some heat for this campaign’s tactic (from those liberal media elite media sources I peruse). Of course, Mr. Bridges is perhaps uniquely entitled to use religion in his campaign, since according to his website, he actually has the endorsement of “Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior”.
In some sense, there might be some value in having more judges like Roderick Bridges. As an advocate who sometimes is pressed into making an argument with little support in precedent, it might be good to preface my argument, with “Your Honor, let me bless you with an argument that the Lord has laid upon my heart.” Never mind the what the Supreme Court says, how could a judge endorsed by God possibly reject an argument that was dictated by his most powerful backer? Surely, no person would claim that God had authored something that that person actually thought up — not to win a case or something like an election.
In this election year, in this State, I am not at all shocked that such a campaign tactic is being used. I am actually astounded that it doesn’t happen more. The problem with this particular tactic is that Mr. Bridges has tried it in a county where many of the voters read. If he brings me on as a campaign advisor, I could direct him to a handful of counties where he can use his brochures as part of a pathway to a successful campaign. And I can give him my list of Facebook friends I have unfollowed to elicit campaign contributions.