Politics & Policy

Democrats Are Increasingly Comfortable with Religious Tests

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Reuters photo: Yuri Gripas)
Senators badger a judicial nominee about her Catholicism.

‘Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) asked Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Coney Barrett, a nominee for a federal appeals court, on Wednesday.

Since Durbin inquired in the form of a question, we can only assume that Barrett’s answer was pertinent to the confirmation. That is problematic, considering that the Constitution explicitly states that no religion — not even a belief in orthodox liberalism — should be a prerequisite for holding a federal office.

At least Durbin’s query about “orthodox” Catholicism was based on some concocted apprehension about Barrett’s ability to overcome faith to fulfill her obligations as a judge. The professor, who apparently takes both the law and her faith seriously enough to have pondered this question in writing, told Durbin, “Any kind of conviction, religious or otherwise, should never surpass the law.”

But Barrett’s Catholicism would come up a number of times during the hearing, and in far more troubling ways.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) claimed. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”

What dogma is Feinstein talking about?

For one thing, Barrett’s real sin, as it were, isn’t that her faith might get in the way of doing her job, but that chances are exceptionally high she will take her oath to defend the Constitution far more seriously than Feinstein does. When the California senator claims to be troubled by Barrett’s “dogma,” what she was really saying was: “You clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, which means you’ll probably take the Constitution far too literally. Yet, at the same time, you hold heretical personal views on the only two constitutional rights that my fellow liberals are dogmatic about: abortion and same-sex marriage.”

You know, the “big issues.”

It is irksome, no doubt, that Barrett’s faith informs her views. Our backgrounds and beliefs always color our opinions. This is not yet an illegal act. But these lines of questioning, which are becoming increasingly prevalent in political discourse, are an attempt to create the impression that faithful Christians whose beliefs are at odds with newly sanctified cultural mores are incapable of doing their job. They are guilty of another kind of apostasy.

This is why Senator Al Franken (D., Minn.) asked Barrett about speaking honorariums she received from the religious-liberty nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, comparing the group to the late Cambodian leader Pol Pot. (The group was recently smeared by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group for pursuing religious-freedom cases in court.)

“I question your judgment,” the former star of Stuart Saves His Family lectured the mother of seven.

This is why Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) deployed a religious test when questioning Russell Vought, then-nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), earlier this summer. Sanders was upset by an article Vought authored in which he was critical of the oft-repeated platitude that everyone worships the same God. Sanders dispensed with theater and simply accused Vought of a thought crime, specifically being an Islamophobe for arguing that the only path to salvation is through Jesus Christ.

“What about Jews?” Sanders asked Vought. “Do they stand condemned, too?”

Yes, Bernie. Us, too. So what? Does a nominee have to believe everyone goes to heaven to crunch numbers at the OMB? I don’t fashion myself an expert on theological doctrine, but I imagine that a rather significant number of Christians would be out of work if this view of salvation were to exclude them from holding governmental positions. Which is, of course, the point.

For Feinstein, the very presence of Catholicism is ‘concerning.’

As we’ve seen in the Supreme Court, “orthodox” Catholics can just as easily be originalists — which, whatever you might make of the philosophy, exhibits far more rigid adherence to the Constitution than to the magisterium when it comes to matters of law. After all, in the law-review article that spurred all this supposed trepidation among Senate Democrats, Barrett argued that Catholic judges should recuse themselves from cases in which their faith might prohibit them from carrying out law they disagree with, specifically on the death penalty.

If a nominee’s beliefs conflict with the Constitution, it’s important for those vetting the nominee to find out. But for Feinstein, the very presence of Catholicism is “concerning.” So the problem here is that the dogma of Sanders and Feinstein is becoming increasingly hostile toward orthodox faiths, not the other way around.

    READ MORE:

    SCOTUS Rules on Religious Freedom

    The Continuing Threat to Religious Liberty

    Religious Freedom Bills Don’t Permit Bigotry

 — David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi. © 2017 Creators.com

David Harsanyi — David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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