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Democrats Are Increasingly Comfortable With Religious Tests


“Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Sen. Dick Durbin asked yesterday of Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Coney Barrett, a nominee to a federal appeals court.

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 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 that it’s “never appropriate for a judge to apply their personal convictions whether it derives from faith or personal conviction.”

Barrett’s Catholicism, though, 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,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein claimed (incredulous italics all mine). “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”

Barrett’s real sin, as it were, isn’t that her faith might get in the way of doing her job, but rather that chances are exceptionally high that she will take her oath to uphold the Constitution far more seriously than Feinstein does. When the California senator claims to be troubled by Barrett’s “dogma,” what she’s really saying is “You clerked for 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 gay 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, 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 jobs. They are guilty of another kind of apostasy.

This is why Sen. Al Franken asked Barrett about speaking honorariums she received from the civil rights organization Alliance Defending Freedom, comparing the group to Pol Pot. (The group was recently smeared by SPLC as a “hate group” for pursuing religious freedom cases in court).

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

This why Sen. Bernie Sanders deployed a religious test when questioning Russell Vought, then-nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, 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, he accused Vought of 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 excluded them from holding governmental positions. Which is, of course, the point.

It is improbable that judicial nominees who spent their Sunday mornings at The Church Of Do Whatever Makes You Feel Good would ever be asked if their beliefs prohibited them from being good judges. It is far more likely they would be praised for showing empathy over being sticklers about the law. The idea that a Muslim judicial appointee would be queried on how his orthodoxy might undermine the ability to faithfully execute law is just implausible.

As we’ve seen in the Supreme Court, “orthodox” Catholics can just as easily (and hopefully) be originalists — which, whatever you might make of the philosophy, exhibits far more rigid adherence to Constitution than 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 the death penalty.

If a nominee’s beliefs conflict with the Constitution, it’s important for those vetting them 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 towards orthodox faiths, not the other way around.