Fifty-seven years have passed since John F. Kennedy felt compelled to take to the podium of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association and proclaim: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic.”
In the same manner that Barack Obama’s election represented for African-Americans a long awaited, long denied political milestone, so too did JFK’s presidential election represent this for America’s Roman Catholics.
So much so that today few Roman Catholics, except for maybe those old enough to remember JFK and a time when anti-Catholic sentiment was widespread in the United States, could hardly fathom, or would not be flabbergasted, by the suggestion that their religion might in some way make them unfit to hold position of leadership in their government.
Questions That Come Out of the Blue
Notre Dame professor Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, was likely just as flabbergasted when several Senate Democrats, during her judicial nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, publicly asserted just that.
Most vocal in confronting Barrett with highly unusual and bordering on unconstitutional “religious test” line of questioning were senators Al Franken, Dick Durbin, and Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein seemed most concerned, not about any matter of Barrett’s impeccable legal experience and qualifications, but that her Roman Catholicism is evidence enough: “that the dogma lives loudly within [her], and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”
That this line of questioning, at face value, may be easily explained away as merely the ill-considered efforts of a few hyper-partisan Democratic senators to score cheap political points at Barrett’s expense, or that they came dangerously close in appearing to erect an unconstitutional “religious test” for public service, is certainly cause enough for great national concern.
However, this particular line of questioning may be better explained as signaling a much broader and more sinister Democratic Party-wide strategy intended as a warning shot across the bow of anyone who would dare sail into what may seem for some sovereign progressive political waters, most particularly upon the Barque of Peter. It aims to deter religious people who may wish to participate more fully in their government from feeling welcome and free to raise a rightful voice of opposition in the public square, and make them reluctant, because of fear of persecution, to accept nominations to appointed positions of leadership in government, for which they are otherwise eminently qualified. This should be the far greater concern.
In drawing this conclusion, there appears ample evidence. In addition to the religious line of questioning Barrett was subjected to, a similar line of religious questioning and commentary was also taken by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses closely with the Democratic Party, during the Senate confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Perhaps the most shocking evidence of all may be found in the bold public assertions of DNC Chairman Tom Perez that pro-life candidates may no longer find a home in the Democratic Party.
A Broader Attempt to Quash Opposition Speech
While the specific “religious attack” nature of this strategy may be relatively recent, the strategy itself does not appear to be a new one for the DNC, nor for Durbin.
This broader strategy’s origins may be traced to the immediate aftermath of the highly partisan Supreme Court Case known as Citizen United vs. FEC, and in the Left’s reaction to the court’s decision on January 21, 2010 to hold that “Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.”
A party-wide fury seemed to erupt within the DNC over the Citizens United decision, not unlike the recent eruption they recently experienced following the election of Donald Trump. During this maddening time, when their capacity for rational thinking may have been impaired due to extreme duress and abject disbelief, Democrats devised this highly unethical, if not immoral, and probably illegal strategy. Its ultimate goal is to shut down, anywhere possible, by any means possible, the opposition’s participation in the U.S. political process.
It heaped upon countless numbers of America’s socially conservative citizens, corporations, and charitable organizations harassment, intimidation, public shaming, boycotting, and costly legal expenses. This progressive political strategy is the subject of a well-documented and thoroughly researched book written by The Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel, titled “The Intimidation Game, How the Left is Silencing Free Speech.”
In short, the strategy can be characterized simply as seeking to quash as much opposition political action and financial support as possible, by threatening to use the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Election Commission (FEC), congressional, and executive agency powers of subpoena to coerce political adversaries, real and imagined, to swiftly exit politics.
This tactic uses those coercive powers to obtain from conservative political groups and public corporations their private donor lists, so the people named in those lists may become targets of a highly refined and orchestrated campaign of public shaming, boycotting, personal intimidation and attack. The ultimate goal is to force the targets into such a heightened state of fear and fatigue as to conclude the severe personal costs of their political participation are too great and not worth repeating. The tactic most likely familiar is the one in which several dozens of mostly conservative political organizations were allegedly singled out by partisan IRS Obama appointees for special mistreatment.
It was in Durbin’s personal participation in this heavy-handed strategy of the DNC that we find his religious line of questioning Barrett to be particularly reminiscent. Strassel reports “Durbin couldn’t help admitting what he had been trying to accomplish—a culture of fear.”
It may be too soon to know for certain whether Democrats attacking Barrett for her so-called orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs will mark some bold new progressive war against America’s conservative religious citizens, or if it was just a case of a few Democratic senators behaving badly. But one thing has become a whole lot less certain: the trust of generations of Roman Catholics living in the United States who have taken for granted since JFK won that presidential election their right to participate fully and equally, free from religious bigotry and unwarranted suspicion, in the political life and governing of their country.