Sep 15 2017
Last week, Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett came before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a nominee to be a circuit court judge. Her nomination was endorsed by prominent legal scholars from across the political spectrum, including Neal Katyal, President Obama’s acting solicitor general.
Unfortunately a number of my Democratic colleagues insinuated that her Catholic faith would prevent her from applying the law freely and fairly.
“Dogma and law are two different things,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s a concern.”
Sen. Durbin (D-IL) later added, “What’s an ‘orthodox Catholic?’ Do you consider yourself an ‘orthodox Catholic’?”
These remarks unfortunately fit an emerging pattern from Democratic lawmakers.
Just a few months ago, another eminently qualified nominee, Russell Vought, appeared before the Budget Committee to be considered for a post at the Office of Management and Budget.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) questioned the nominee, not about management or budgets, but about his evangelical Christian beliefs.
“In your judgment,” asked this senator, “do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
Mr. Vought explained that he was an evangelical Christian and adhered to those beliefs.
But that wasn’t good enough for Sanders who later stated he would vote against Mr. Vought’s nomination because he was not “what this country is supposed to be about.”
These strange inquisitions have nothing to do with the nominees’ competency, patriotism, or ability to serve Americans of different faiths equally.
In fact, they have little to do with this life at all. Instead they have to do with the afterlife. To my knowledge, the OMB and the Seventh Circuit have no jurisdiction over that.
This country is divided enough. Millions of Americans feel that Washington, D.C. and the dominant culture despise them.
And how could they not, when they see their leaders sitting here, grilling patriotic citizens about their faith like inquisitors?
Religious freedom is of deep concern to me as a Mormon. My church has weathered extraordinary religious persecution, much of it sponsored by the government.
The first Latter Day Saints were exiled from home after home. In 1838, the governor of Missouri ordered that Mormons be driven from the land or “exterminated.”
Our first leader, Joseph Smith, once said, “the civil magistrate . . . should punish guilt but never suppress the freedom of the soul.”
That, of course, was before he was martyred by a bigoted mob.
Our country’s ban on religious tests is a strong bulwark for religious freedom. As an original provision of the Constitution, it predates even the Bill of Rights. And it applies not just to some religious adherents, but to all of them, equally.
The religious tests raised against Mr. Vought and Ms. Barrett do not favor one sect of Christian over another, as was sadly common for much of our nation’s history.
Rather, they favor the secular, progressive creed clung to so confidently by the nation's ruling elites. This creed has its own clerics, its own dogmas, and, as these nominees have discovered, it has its own heresies, too.
More and more, the adherents of this creed seek to use the power of government to steamroll disfavored groups—especially dissenters from their political dogmas.
So they force evangelical caterers to bake cakes celebrating same-sex marriages, as in the case that is before the Supreme Court now. And they force nuns to purchase contraceptive coverage. And sue religious hospitals that won’t perform abortions or sex-reassignment surgeries.
Yes, the secular, progressive creed has proven that it is capable of triumphalism and intolerance, just like the creeds that have gone before it. Not because its adherents are uniquely wicked, to the contrary: Because they are human.
There is a way out of this vicious cycle of religious intolerance.
And that is for all of us to treat one another with civility and to respect the constitutional rights of citizens who come before it.
Because religious freedom puts all Americans on the same footing. It helps men and women stand upright, honest before the law—and before God.