Fritz Hollings Hates the Constitution

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As one who recently has moved into the Palmetto State, I don’t know much about Sen. Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings. Short of his abortive bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President in 1988, I have given him little thought except that he reminds me of the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn ("Ah say they-ah son"). Unfortunately, in the last year he has proven to be more than just an imitation of a cartoon chicken; he has openly broken his oath of office to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America."

Hollings is hardly the first U.S. Senator to trash our Constitution. Members of both parties routinely do it, but Hollings actions are especially egregious in that they attack our constitutional protections of religious freedom. To be specific, Hollings in the last year has trashed the First Amendment and Article Six, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution. While he won’t pay a political price for his actions, we should still hold him accountable.

The nomination of former Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri to be U.S. Attorney General has been obviously controversial. That should hardly be surprising, as Ashcroft is as conservative as Hollings and most other Democrats in Congress are liberal. What surprises me, however, is the insistence by Hollings and many of his Democratic colleagues that the Senate should disqualify Ashcroft because of his Christian beliefs.

By linking Ashcroft’s Christianity to his fitness to hold the cabinet post for which President George W. Bush has nominated him, Hollings clearly violates Article Six, Section Three of the Constitution, which states that there shall be "no religious test" for those in public office. While Hollings might insist that he is referring to Ashcroft’s conservative attitudes in general, there can be no doubt where the real objections lie. Those attitudes surfaced after the tape of Ashcroft’s speech at Bob Jones University became public.

Ashcroft told the BJU gathering, "We have no king but Jesus," words that Hollings and his fellow Democrats harshly attacked as making him unsuitable to serve in public office. In other words, Hollings is demanding that Ashcroft bow down to a different god, the god of the state.

There is something very chilling in Hollings’ reaction to Ashcroft’s BJU speech. When Christianity first appeared in the Roman Empire, the authorities ordered thousands of Christians to be burned alive, crucified, or torn to pieces by wild beasts in coliseums and amphitheaters as entertainment for the Roman masses. The government murdered these believers because they uttered the same words that Ashcroft spoke: "We have no king but Jesus."

Of course, Hollings has not violated his constitutional oath just in the Ashcroft case. Last year, he demanded that Congress pass a resolution condemning Bob Jones University for its "anti-Catholic bigotry." Now, I belong to a denomination that has also felt the lash of the BJU tongue over the years; Roman Catholics are not the only Christians that BJU condemns. However, the BJU attacks on Catholicism are in essence no different than what Catholic doctrine historically has said about Protestantism.

The point is that the attacks, whether by BJU on Catholics or other Protestants, or Catholics on Protestants, are theological by nature. They are a matter of how these various religious bodies interpret the Bible and other Christian documents. What is absolutely clear is that the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States declares unequivocally that Congress "shall make no law" regarding the establishment of religion. Hollings has thus demanded that Congress turn the First Amendment on its head in calling for BJU to be officially condemned because of its theological position on other branches of the Christian Church.

When the Founders wrote the Constitution, the infamous Thirty Years War, the most bloody and destructive religious conflict ever, had ended just 139 years before. Lest anyone think that this great religious struggle was not on the minds of the Founders during their deliberations, remember that the Civil War ended just 136 years ago and, as the Confederate Flag debate has plainly demonstrated, is still part of our national body politic.

Fritz Hollings can oppose John Ashcroft’s nomination if he so chooses, a privilege of being a U.S. Senator. However, Hollings cannot demand that Ashcroft or any other nominee be devoid of religious beliefs or hold religious values that coincide with Hollings’ version of political correctness. That utterly violates the very Constitution He has vowed to "protect and defend."

William L. Anderson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

© 2001

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