An attorney and legal analyst says it was "stunning and shameful" to watch U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders grill an American over his religious beliefs.
Sanders made headlines Wednesday when he grilled Russell Vought, a nominee for the Office of Management and Budget, over a 2016 column he wrote after Wheaton College fired a professor who expressed theological solidarity with Islam and Muslims. Wheaton is Vought's alma mater.
Pointing out the fundamental theological differences between Islam and Christianity, Vought defended the school's decision in an article published by conservative website The Resurgent.
But the far-left Vermont senator accused Vought of "Islamophobia" and told the committee that he would vote against the nomination because Vought is "really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about."
"Do you think your statement that you put into that publication," Sanders asked Vought, "they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ the Son and they stand condemned, do you think that's respectful of other religions?"
"Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly with regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ and salvation," Vought replied.
The exchange between Sanders and Vought raised constitutional concerns for some who suggested the senator had imposed a "religious test" on a nominee, when that nominee was stating foundational beliefs about his faith.
The redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ is a crucial part of Christianity. In his commentary, Vought pointed to Christ's words in Luke that anyone who doesn't believe in Him is "condemned" because they don't believe "in the name of the only Son of God."
"I think these comments are not only unconstitutional, they are deeply offensive to tens of millions of evangelical Christians and that's why I say Bernie Sanders should apologize or he needs to resign from office."
Islam relegates Jesus to a prophet, along with Moses and Mohammed, and rejects that Jesus is the son of God.
"Never has God begotten a son," the Qur'an states.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department attorney, told American Family Radio that he worked with Vought at The Heritage Foundation and called him a "real professional" and a very qualified candidate for the OMB job.
"The very idea," observed Spakovsky, "that a United States senator would interrogate and cross-examine a nominee over their religious beliefs is frankly shocking, stunning and shameful."
Reacting to the exchange, National Review writer David French pointed out that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution forbids a "religious test" for public office and says Sanders violated that rule.
"Vought expressed entirely orthodox Christian beliefs," French wrote. "There is nothing 'extreme' about his statements, and they mirror the statements of countless Christian churches and schools across the land."
In a story for The Atlantic, writer Emma Green also quotes Article VI and suggests that Sanders "flirted with the boundaries" of it during the confirmation hearing.
"It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget," Green wrote.
Sanders berated Vought during the exchange, repeatedly interrupting the nominee and one point lecturing him that "there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world."
Despite citing his Jewish heritage, Sanders' own faith - or lack of faith - became an issue during his presidential campaign last year. A leaked email from the Democratic National Committee described a plan to question if Sanders is an atheist, which Sanders denied was true and called the tactic "outrageous."
"I would not be running for president of the United States," he told a town hall meeting, "if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings."
In an "Action Alert" emailed Friday to its supporters, American Family Association suggests Sanders violated Article VI and is asking Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to censure the Vermont senator for his conduct.
AFA spokesman Ed Vitagliano pointed out that a person with such anti-Christian views came close to being the Democratic Party nominee for president.
"And it also demonstrates that party has gone wacky," he observes, "because that is an atheistic, humanistic view that you would have found in the Soviet Union, not in the United States of America."
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