Religion

Stop Hounding the Knights of Columbus

A member of the Knights Of Columbus awaits the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI before a departure ceremony at JFK International Airport for the final event of his Apostolic Journey to the United States in New York, April 20, 2008. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters File Photo)

Article VI of the Constitution consists of three paragraphs. The final one includes an emphatic prohibition against applying a “religious test” to any office.

The provision is lost on some federal lawmakers who, despite taking an oath to uphold the Constitution, are now blatantly engaged in applying de facto religious tests to prospective federal judges. These legislators include, in particular, Democratic senators Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), who are hounding federal judicial nominee Brian Buescher because of his membership in the Knights of Columbus.

This is an assault on religious liberty, freedom of worship and association, and the Constitution. And it is an affront to America’s greatness, historically dependent on and defined by a vibrant civil society and volunteer associations.

There are few of those as respected as the Knights of Columbus. The thrust of the senators’ questioning of Buescher and others is that the Knights represent an out-of-the-mainstream extremist organization opposed to women’s rights, composed of troublesome priests and laymen. (Ramesh Ponnuru and Carrie Severino have provided excellent summaries of recent liberal crusades against nominees who are practicing Catholics.) Membership is disqualifying for public service.

Just what is this allegedly retrograde outfit? Founded in 1882 in Connecticut for the care of widows, orphans, and disabled members, the Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization — loyal to the teachings of the Church — whose members engage in an enormous amount of charity and volunteer work that ranges locally to globally. Special Olympics, Coats for Kids, Habitat for Humanity, the homeless shelter and food kitchen, disaster relief, displaced Middle Eastern Christians: Big or small, there is little the organization of 1.9 million members (the vast majority of whose 15,900 councils are American) will not take on, pay for, or sweat for.

In 2017, the Knights calculated its charitable giving at nearly $186 million, and members volunteered over 75 million hours of service.

Note to Senators Harris and Dianne Feinstein (who recently attacked Trump judicial nominee Paul Matey over his membership in the Knights): In California, there are over 703 councils and 77,000 Knights. In 2017 they contributed $7.4 million to charitable undertakings and volunteered 3.3 million hours helping California’s poor, needy, and neglected.

The plaques of America’s war memorials are filled with the names of Knights. The first American officer to die in World War I was a Knight. The last officer to die was a Knight (a chaplain). Of all nations’ combatants, the last man to be killed, seconds before the Armistice took effect, was a Knight. President Kennedy was a Knight, and several councils are named in his honor. Numerous other anecdotes can be added here.

But the volume of such tributes, the size of its membership, the number of its councils, the dollars donated, and the hours volunteered, while inspiring, are irrelevant to the religious liberties of Americans. What troubles us is the principle at stake, which strikes at the core of the republic. The senators who have engaged in this decidedly un-American conduct need to apologize to the nominees unjustly treated, to the Knights of Columbus as an institution, and to their constituents for representing them under false pretenses.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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