Sanders: Trump appointee has religious freedom, but he can’t work in government

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) has no problem with the Christian faith of President Donald Trump’s pick for deputy White House budget director — but the senator says the nominee is not welcome to serve in the government.

Earlier this month, Sanders blasted Trump nominee Russell Vought, a Christian, for a 2016 blog post in which he wrote that Islam as a “deficient theology” and argued Muslims “stand condemned” because they have rejected faith in Jesus Christ. Sanders declared his opposition to Vought’s nomination and ultimately said Vought’s religious values disqualified him for public office.

Sanders, a self-avowed socialist, addressed the issue Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Host Jake Tapper asked the lawmaker if someone is “necessarily hateful and Islamophobic” if they believe the only path to God is through Jesus Christ.

“No, absolutely not,” Sanders told Tapper. “Look, what our Constitution — one of the great parts of our Constitution is to protect freedom of religion. You practice what religion you want — I do. Mr. Vought does. That’s what it’s about.”

But that freedom, in Sanders’ mind, doesn’t mean it’s OK for Vought to hold a job in the federal government. In fact, he said it would be “unacceptable” for the Christian nominee to do so.

“But at a time when we are dealing with Islamophobia in this country, when you got 1.2 billion people who are Muslims around the world,” Sanders explained, “to have a high-ranking member of the United States government essentially say, ‘Oh, Islam is a second-class religion.’

“So, that seemed to me unacceptable as a government official,” he said. “In terms of his freedom of religion, he and every other American has the right to hold any point of view they want.”

Vought’s Christian faith became an issue earlier this month when, during a Senate hearing, Sanders said the Trump nominee is “really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”

“You think your statement that you put into that publication, ‘They do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned,’ do you think that’s respectful of other religions?” Sanders asked at one point.

Sanders’ questions arose from Vought’s 2016 article in The Resurgent. In the post, Vought defended his alma mater, Wheaton College, for dismissing a professor who claimed Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” The Trump nominee said a person cannot “know God” without complete faith in Jesus Christ.

The attack from Sanders garnered quite a lot of criticism from Christian circles.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, slammed the Vermont senator for subjecting Vought to an “unconstitutional religious test.”

“These words, and this sentiment, are not only unconstitutional, but unconscionable by a public official,” Jeffress, a conservative, said. “This attack by Sanders is abhorrent because he has effectively said that evangelicals, who make up 41 percent of the population of our country, are not qualified to serve in public office, and [are] ‘not what this country is all about.’”

Even Michael Wear, a Christian who directed faith outreach for then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, blasted Sanders for “demonizing basic Christian theology.”

“This is why Democrats lost in 2016. It’s why we didn’t deserve to win on our own merits in 2016. And it’s why we’re on track to lose again in 2018,” Wear wrote on Facebook. “I remember when Democratic leadership used to speak out against using religion as a weapon.”

“Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic,” he said.

A vote on Vought’s nomination has not been scheduled.