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Reason, Again


Tim Cavanaugh writes that charges of anti-Catholicism are overblown: “The brouhaha over the Bill Pryor nomination was certainly the hokiest of recent efforts to put anti-Catholicism back on the American agenda. National Review Online’s Ramesh Ponnuru set a rare example for candor in his recent Bull on the matter, which more or less urged Republicans to employ better sophistry and more zealous demagoguery than the Democrats. The argument: If Democrats use Pryor’s anti-abortion views to disqualify him from serving on a federal appeals court, they are employing a de facto religious test on any Catholic candidate who follows the church’s ‘teachings.’ Republicans can thus profitably condemn the Democrats as bigots. (Ponnuru doesn’t specifically mention the reign of King Charles II, but others have.) The charge need not be true; and a Test Act need not even be a necessarily bad thing. The attraction here is the issue’s power to put Democrats on the defensive.

“Like most good party-politics stratagems, this one’s policy underpinnings are pure hogwash. That a strict and (more importantly) open adherence to Pope Paul VI’s anti-contraception encyclical Humanae Vitae would make it unlikely for Pryor to get the support of Democratic opponents is true enough. It’s also irrelevant. The last time a political figure’s Catholicism became a nationally publicized issue was during the 1960 election; at that time, candidate Kennedy defused the issue not by reconciling voters to his faith but by effectively promising to suppress his religious beliefs should they ever interfere with his duties.”

Speaking of bull, Cavanaugh’s full of it. My article was certainly not a candid argument for “better sophistry and more zealous demagoguery.” Rather, I was saying that Republicans were making an argument that was mostly correct and should refine it so that it was fully correct. Republicans were suggesting that the Democrats were trying to exclude Catholics from the federal judiciary. I said that it would be more precise to say that the Democrats had established a litmus test that would have the effect of excluding Catholics who were faithful to their church’s teachings. (I’m not sure why Cavanaugh puts that word in quotes.) I also said that it was entirely fair to ask Democrats to defend that exclusion openly. Perhaps these arguments are “pure hogwash” and “irrelevant,” but it would take more than Cavanaugh’s assertion to prove that case–especially since he hasn’t even characterized the arguments accurately.