As we work through the characteristics Americans should be looking for in a President, we've considered experience both good and bad, personal temperament, and leadership style. Most recently, we explained why a president's religion not only matters, but is perfectly appropriate and Constitutional for voters to consider: a President who personally believes that any religion he does not believe in has no right to exist or participate in public life cannot honestly swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution" which grants precisely those very important rights.
Our Founders had their own views and disagreements concerning religion, but they unanimously believed that each individual person had an absolute right to reach his own religious beliefs. There were exceptions; they were wary of any religion that forbade other religions from existing, such as Catholicism in their day and Islam in ours. Save for such extreme situations, though, America's federal government was strictly forbidden from meddling in matters of religion.
So our President has to at least put up with religions he doesn't like? No, that's not quite good enough. He must tolerate and uphold apostates: people who leave the "right" religion and turn into wacky cultists. He must paraphrase Voltaire - "I disagree with what you believe but I will defend to the death your right to believe it."
When we think of the Muslim world, we think of places like Saudi Arabia where 99.999% of people are Muslims because anyone else has a tendency to get executed.
The entire Muslim world is not quite like that. Malaysia, for example, is 60% Muslim - more than enough to control the national agenda, but certainly not an Arabian-style monolith.
The Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of worship, and indeed, other religions do exist and practice in Malaysia. You can attend Calvary Church in Kuala Lumpur with minimal probability of getting murdered.
There is, however, a hitch: Malaysia follows Sharia law which forbids Muslims from converting to anything else on pain of death. Under Sharia law, Islam is like the Roach Motel: you can check in, but you can't check out.
This makes it almost impossible for Malay Muslims to convert, since they must first apply to the sharia court for permission to change their religion.
Courts are reluctant to grant this permission, since ethnic Malays are considered Muslims from birth. The same does not apply to other ethnic groups, for example ethnic groups in the states of Sarawak and Sabah, who are predominantly Christian.
Shad Salem Faruq, professor of law at the University of Technology MARA, believes the government is most worried about Christian proselytising. [emphasis added]
How can you choose to believe in any religion when you're too young to ponder any question more profound than "Where's Mommy's nipple?" You can't - yet from the doctor's first spank, ethnic Malays are imprisoned in Islam whether they want to be or not.
Malaysia can claim with perfect honesty to legally permit and even protect other religions, but they don't have religious liberty, or, in the words of our First Amendment, "the free exercise thereof."
Americans, of course, change religions almost as often as Queen Elizabeth I took baths and nobody cares except their former pastor or priest. Our government couldn't care less what religion you claim yesterday or today, and that's as it should be.
It's not necessary for a President to have changed his religion; he can be as devout, or not, as he prefers. It is an absolute requirement, however, that a President acknowledge that you can change your religion, and by itself, how you practice your religion is none of the government's business.
Why? Because the Constitution says so, and he's sworn to defend it.
There is another corollary to the Constitutional requirement of the "free exercise" of religion that directly relates to the right of apostasy: the right to proselytize.
There are countries which permit religious services and which even permit religious conversions - but they forbid members of one religion from attempting to reach out and convert members of another. If an individual happens to read religious works and change their mind, that's one thing, but Mormons going door-to-door is prohibited.
This too is unconstitutional. Most major religions, though not all, explicitly require outreach to unbelievers. If it's a command of God, yet the government makes it illegal, how can you be said to have freedom to exercise your religion? You can't.
The government needs to be even-handed; nobody should be forced or pressured into changing religion, and if a particularly aggressive sect is using force, it's appropriate for government to intervene. So long as the argumentation is merely by the spoken or written word, though, "free exercise" of religion is a Constitutional right.
This matters, because in recent years we have seen a disturbing tendency on the Left to push religion into the purely private arena. The view of so many of our elites appears to be, you can believe whatever you like in the privacy of your own heart, but it better not ever be seen in public or affect your voting.
Our Founders intended religious freedom to be much more than that, and our President needs to understand this aspect of our Constitution as well as they did.
There is one final religious requirement that should apply to the White House, perhaps the most controversial of all: The President should be a theist. In other words, the President needs to believe in a Higher Power outside, above, and beyond himself.
Does this rule out atheists? In the main: yes.
How can we justify this astonishing limitation of liberty? Remember, we are not suggesting that there should be a legal religious requirement; the Constitution forbids this for good reason. If an atheist President were duly elected, there neither is nor should there be any obstacle to him entering office. After all, Mr. Obama took office, so why not an atheist?
In this series, however, we are exploring factors voters should consider when they make choices in the polls. Each voter has an absolute right to make his choice on whatever factors are important to him; and a belief in God should be very important.
Why? One simple question: "Who watches the watchers?"
The President is the most powerful man in the world. He can order people killed as Mr.Obama has. He can have perfect forgeries made that can never be detected. He can have people vanished, the offices of his enemies broken into or subjected to constant IRS audits, he can engage in all manner of criminal mischief.
Yet we have never had a President go to prison for committing crimes; only the stupidest and most incompetent President would ever allow a chain of evidence leading the crime back to himself. If you're that dumb you probably wouldn't make it to the Oval Office in the first place.
What keeps a President from doing whatever he can get away with, which is almost anything? Only this: his conscience, which is based on his awareness of a Higher Power Who sees all, interferes in the affairs of men, and will cause justice to be done, in the next life if not in this.
The precise details of that God or His doctrine don't so much matter as long as they're not overtly evil. All that matters is the belief in being answerable to a Higher Law - because otherwise, the Executive will be guided only by his own passions and calculations.
My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.
- Abraham Lincoln
There is one final aspect of the person of the President that needs to be considered, and that is his family life. We'll talk about that in the last article in this series.