This week former Alabama judge Roy Moore lost in a surprising upset to former US Attorney Doug Jones in the race to fill the vacant Senate seat left by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And while many analysts and reporters are rightfully poring over results to better understand what this election means in the scope of America’s political landscape, there is a surprising lack of attention on comments made by a Moore campaign spokesman on the day of the election.
As someone who was raised in the South (Texas specifically) I’m perhaps a bit oversensitive to the stereotype that all southerners are backwards hillbillies more interested in working on their trucks than following current events. Obviously, there are legions of southerners who have achieved great things in business, the sciences, entertainment, and other important fields. But all it takes is one moron to go on national TV for our accomplishments to be overshadowed by an outdated and harmful stereotype.
This week’s moron is the Moore campaign’s spokesman, Ted Crockett, who previously served three terms as a Shelby County Commissioner and is no novice to politics or governance. Appearing on CNN a few hours before the polls closed, Crockett stated that his boss, Roy Moore, would probably want same-sex relationships to be illegal, and complained that “You people want to take the whole 2,000 or 3,000 years of our history and y’all just want to throw it out the window as if you’re going to make your own rules, your own man-made rules and do whatever you want in sin, and that’s part of the problem we’ve got in Washington, DC, today.”
Crockett’s disgraceful homophobia (and confusion about time) pales in comparison to what happened next. Pressed by CNN to explain why Moore thinks Muslims shouldn’t be able to serve in Congress Crockett stated: “Because you have to swear on the Bible [for the oath of office]. I had to do it. I’m an elected official three terms. I had to swear on a Bible. You have to swear on a Bible to be an elected official in the United States of America. He alleges that a Muslim cannot do that ethically swearing on the Bible.”
Obviously, this is untrue. There is no religious test for public office, a practice which is banned by Article Six of the Constitution and centuries of jurisprudence. And as we all know, there are already Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and even humanists serving in Congress, none of whom were forced to take the oath of office on a religious book they didn’t personally adhere to.
I could only sit and cringe as CNN’s Jake Tapper pushed back on Crockett’s claim. Crockett sat, jaw agape with a look of absolute gormlessness on his face, as he was told that there is no such law requiring a biblical oath of office. Crockett was silent for several seconds, slowly blinking as he tried to process this new information, looking like the grossest caricature of a backwards good ol’ boy. It was a disgusting and embarrassing display which no doubt shamed those who call the South their home.
Perhaps Crockett exemplifies why some evangelical Christians in America feel like they’re under personal attack and that their rights are being taken away. It’s much easier to feel victimized if you think things are being taken away from you or changed without your consent, such as Crockett’s concern over biblical oaths of office. Would Crockett be as upset with the “secularization” of the country if he was taught about constitutional law and civics and realized that there was no change being made to the oath of office? Would Christians feel less stigmatized if they understood that the grounds for bans against sectarian religious displays on public lands have existed for centuries and that they aren’t new attempts to push Christianity out of the public eye?
Crockett’s performance, while utterly embarrassing, should perhaps serve as a catalyst for increased funding for civics education in the US. If people had a better understanding of the US Constitution and our nation’s laws, they would perhaps be less inclined to endorse erroneous interpretations of our laws and would feel less victimized when their understanding of the laws are invalidated by the court system. With a bit more education about the United States and how our country was established, southerners wouldn’t be forced to hold their heads in their hands as people like Crockett spouted off nonsense on national TV, only to be corrected by a liberal host from New York.