Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Mormons, Missionaries, Catholics, and the N.B.A.

I was speaking yesterday with a politically astute acquaintance who had a theological rather than political take on why Senator Orrin Hatch has been a champion of amending the Constitution to make naturalized citizens eligible to be President of the United States.

My political take had been that the natural born citizen eligibility requirement was particularly salient for a Senator from Utah because (1) the "natural born" status of children born abroad to American parents is legally unclear, and (2) Utah voters are disproportionately more likely than voters in other states to have families with children born abroad to American parents. But (2) may not be true because Mormon missionaries are overwhelmingly single and stay that way during their mission.

My acquaintance's alternative explanation was the Mormon emphasis on conversion, and the similarity between naturalization and conversion. I'm not well-versed enough in Mormon theology to assess this explanation, but the similarity between naturalization and religious conversion is an obvious one.

Attend a naturalization ceremony and watch the new citizens take their oath to the United States (see around 3-minute mark), and you'll see how. Alternatively, consider the wording of the Oath of Allegiance:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

The renunciation of one's prior allegiance, together with the promise to "bear true faith and allegiance" to the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, combines commitments of both head and heart. 

According to Gerhard Casper, the "abjuration" oath probably originated with John Jay. It has been in federal law since the Naturalization Act of 1795, which in turn seems to have had a provision of New York's Constitution of 1777 as its model. If Casper is right, then the federal abjuration oath and the natural-born citizen requirement for presidential eligibility share the same parentage. 

Many Americans of the founding generation were anti-Catholic, of course. Among this group, John Jay is particularly prominent. One of Jay's concerns was that Roman Catholics would hold an allegiance to the pope and other ecclesiastical authorities above allegiance to the civil government, and that even if such allegiance were abjured, Roman Catholics would treat the pope as having authority to absolve individuals' allegiance to the civil government. These concerns were later reflected in the 1850s proposal by Know Nothing leader Thomas Whitney to add "ecclesiastical" to the abjuration oath.

Given the history of the natural born citizen requirement and the historical intertwining of anti-Catholicism with anti-immigrant sentiment, American Catholics would seem to be a natural base of support for an amendment to remove the "natural born" presidential eligibility requirement from the Constitution.

It's time for a new season in our stance as a nation toward naturalized citizens. Go N.B.A.!


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