THE CONSTITUTION says it best in Article VI, binding officeholders to support the Constitution, "but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
"No religious test" means no religious test. "Any office" means any office. "Ever" means ever.
In their hearts, voters may apply whatever tests they want in deciding for whom to vote. They are wisest when choosing candidates on records of public service and positions on public issues that cover the civil society.
Bad acts are committed in the name of good religions in too many countries. Tyranny, denial of liberty, civil strife, genocide, victimization for belief or doubt. The U.S. Constitution means: not here.
All persons are guided to their positions on public issues by their own ethical, moral and spiritual values. In that sense, trying to keep religion out of politics would be wrong and doomed to failure. But that process is private.
When politicians campaign on religiosity, some are honest, but others prove to have been rogues hiding their true nature and intent. They may fool some of the people some of the time. They don't fool God.
Too often a pledge to be on God's side is a claim that the reverse is true. That is demagogy and blasphemy. One need not be agnostic to insist that the deity's political preference is not known. Mere mortals are on their own to decide. Those who normally pray for guidance should do so. Making a public posture of it can be phony.
The Democrats' nomination of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman for vice president was a welcome widening of the door. Senator Lieberman is Jewish, Orthodox, observant and proud of it. Until Alfred E. Smith was nominated for president by the Democrats in 1928, people thought no Catholic could be, and until John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, no Catholic was.
Reveling in the welcome his nomination enjoyed, and no doubt seizing the opportunity to raid Gov. George W. Bush's supposed base on the religious right, Senator Lieberman has gone exuberantly overboard in posturing religiosity and claiming a (presumably ecumenical) religious character to the nation. This posturing aside, his own voting record has scrupulously observed the separation of church and state.
Senator Lieberman earned the chiding of the Anti-Defamation League, whose leaders asked him to tone it down. "Candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters," Howard P. Berkowitz and Abraham H. Foxman conceded, adding, "... we believe there is a point at which an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours."