Congressman Earl Pomeroy currently represents the entire state of North Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives, but if current political trends continue, he may not remain in Washington D.C. for very long. According the Center for Responsive Politics, Representative Pomeroy has raised over twice as much money as his Republican challenger, Rick Berg, but Election Projection predicts a narrow victory by Berg nonetheless.
Why is Pomeroy in political trouble? As a right-leaning Blue Dog Democrat, Earl Pomeroy is positioned to satisfy few groups of voters very well. Liberal Democrats are upset at Pomeroy’s frequent collaboration with Republicans in Congress, but Republicans don’t give Pomeroy much credit for these maneuvers to the right because Pomeroy remains a Democrat.
Rick Berg, on the other hand, is unambiguous in his political ideology. He’s a Republican, with a strongly regressive agenda. Berg will never gain liberal votes, but he has a strong hold on right wing voters in North Dakota, and motivates them to participate in the political process in a way that Pomeroy cannot.
Part of Berg’s plan is to use his power as a member of Congress to promote some religions over others. Specifically, Berg pledges to dedicate himself to bringing governmental resources to the defense of Judaism and Christianity, while leaving other religions in the lurch. Berg writes of himself, “Rick is a strong social conservative and will protect traditional Judeo-Christian values which have made this country strong.”
There seems, upon initial consideration, to be at least some religious diversity in Berg’s religious constituency: Berg may reject the notion that all religions are equally entitled to the protection of the U.S. Congress, but at least Berg is attempting to appeal to both Christians and Jews. That gesture toward plurality doesn’t go very far, however. Judaism is included in the phrase Judeo-Christian merely because Christians consider Judaism to be the foundation of their own religion. Besides that, in North Dakota, Jews consist of just one tenth of one percent of the population – and many of them aren’t practicing religious Judaism. When Rick Berg speaks of representing “Judeo-Christian” values from North Dakota, he is strategically aiming for Christian support alone.
The religious group targeted by Berg’s congressional campaign isn’t really even as large as Christianity as a whole. Notice that Berg speaks of protecting what he regards as “traditional” Christianity. Liberal and moderate Christianity aren’t going to be served by Berg if he gets to Congress. Berg is signaling his intention to work from Congress to assist particular sects of Christianity over their Christian rivals.
In practice, when Berg promises to use the powers of Congress to protect certain forms of Christianity, and not other religions, he’s also making a promise to violate the Constitution. After all, the Constitution makes it very clear that Congress is not to meddle in religious affairs. The very first line of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.
It’s not the job of any member of Congress to protect any particular religion, or even to protect religion in general. Even before he reaches Capitol Hill, however, Rick Berg has signaled that doesn’t intend to respect the boundaries that are legally established for Congress.
If North Dakota had a Democratic candidate with more backbone than Earl Pomeroy, there might be a reasonable chance that Berg’s radical rejection of constitutional law might become enough of a viable election issue to prevent Berg from gaining the power to abuse a seat in Congress as he has pledged to do. As it is, the only counter to Berg’s extremism is a wispy cloud of blue fog in the shape of a cowering dog.