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Democrats Are Increasingly Comfortable With Religious Tests

Attempting to create the impression that faithful Christians whose beliefs are at odds with newly sanctified cultural mores are incapable of doing their job.

"Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?" Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Coney Barrett, a nominee for a federal appeals court, yesterday.

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, "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," Sen. 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 Judge 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 Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Barrett about speaking honorariums she received from the religious liberty nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, comparing the group to former deposed 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 judgement," the former star of "Stuart Saves His Family" lectured the mother of seven.

This is why Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) deployed a religious test when questioning Russell Vought, then-nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, or 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.

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 toward orthodox faiths, not the other way around.

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  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    "Any kind of conviction, religious or otherwise, should never surpass the law."

    Of course not - the only convictions the law wants are criminal convictions - gotta feed the prison system and support the prison guards' union.

  • ThomasD||

    ""Any kind of conviction, religious or otherwise, should never surpass the law."

    Well, when you look at what that pesky abolition movement, with strong Christian basis, once did to the Democrat party you sure can see where they are coming from.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    What is the Democrats' theory of the moral obligation of the law?

    It sounds like they're pure positivists

    (a) "We know what people ought to do."

    (b) "If they won't do it, we'll put them in cages."

    (c) "So they better obey the laws we write."

    (d) "Except the laws we don't want to enforce but haven't bothered repealing."

  • Dead inside||

    It is amazing the depth of the double standard; imagine the outcry if republican senators question a nominee's liberal beliefs especially if the nominee were Jewish. Or if they questioned one's non-belief. I'm reminded of Kagen's answers during her approval hearings. To even the most innocuous,vanilla position question her response was something along the lines of "I'd love to answer that question Senator, but if I did I'm afraid you may not give me approval so therefore I respectfully decline to answer." Her opponents objected not, her supporters nodded and smiled while Chuckie Shumer soft wept in his own used pant shield.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    "Any kind of conviction, religious or otherwise, should never surpass the law."

    Hmm, well it is my conviction that victimless "crimes" such as drug charges or prostitution cases where there is clearly no coercion involved should not be even considered illegal. I'd be the first juror to step up and vote not guilty, period.

    So this dummy never considered jury nullification, but that's no surprise. I guess the one good thing you can say for politics is that it provides well-paying jobs for mentally retarded folks.

  • Curt||

    It's my conviction that treating human beings as property is wrong. It's my conviction that throwing Japanese-Americans in prison camps is wrong. It's my conviction that allowing the police to seize assets from people who aren't convicted of a crime is wrong. It's my conviction that government seizure of property to enable private development is wrong.

    But, I guess those convictions should also never surpass the law. Honestly, this response from the nominee is probably the most disturbing part of this article.

  • Robert||

    It's what judges are hired for. The same would go for anyone applying for any job. Who'd want to hire someone who'd go against the tasks you hired them for?

  • Curt||

    Judges aren't hired to mindlessly enforce/uphold the law. Judicial review is a big part of the system of checks and balances and an important role for the judicial branch.

    Sometimes, the law is wrong. And the court system is a starting place for changing that.

  • Robert||

    Like for example, say you were hiring a soda jerk. What if they said that out of their conviction, they would refuse to mix chocolate syrup w vanilla ice cream?

  • Shapu||

    Three things:

    1. You and "Inigo" above are not distinguishing between a judge and other actors in our Libertarian Paradise. You want the judge to assert their morality above the law? That's the role of legislators and to a lessor extent cops, prosecutors, and even juries.
    2. The Constitution and its Bill of Rights (including the forgotten Ninth Amendment) is also Law, indeed the fundamental law of the land. Other "laws" or governmental actions that contravene them are not Law and their judicial invalidation is perfectly consistent with "[personal] conviction... should never surpass the law".
    3, You're assuming that personal "conviction" will only flow one way, a notion that actually looking at how judges have actually worked in our constitutional republic should disabuse you of. When they apply their "conviction", it is often to take away individual rights, not preserve them.

  • Dan S.||

    I was once on a jury in a case where the only charge was possession of an illegal gun. I voted "not guilty" on the initial vote, and I used every argument I could think of as to why there could be reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt. None of them worked. I really don't think a call for outright nullification would have worked too well either. So I eventually gave in and voted guilty. I wanted to go home that night and not have to come back the next day for pointless argument, and I didn't want to make the other jurors come back for that either. Did I do the right thing? I don't know. I did what the law said I should have done.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    What the fuck is wrong with Stuart Saves His Family? And why does having seven kids make you a jurist?

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    I dunno, but when Souter, a single guy, was nominated, they made him sound creepy because he was single...come to think of it, maybe Souter is creepy, but it's a wild card whether a wife and kids would have restrained his bad decisions.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    Perhaps having a family would have made him skeptical about the government taking someone's family home?

  • Marty Comanche||

    Wouldn't the causality run the other way? Single because creepy, not creepy because single?

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    He doesn't want a wife, who would be jealous of the ways he's boning Lady Justice.

  • Eman||

    *in my best Dane Cook voice* its a vicious cycle!

  • colorblindkid||

    I think it's hilarious that all these Dems constantly reference God and Jesus for their own causes. Obama talked about God more than Trump does. I have more respect for a Catholic who is pro-life than supposed devout Catholics like Pelosi and Biden who support abortion.

    Also, why you have a belief is irrelevant. Why is being against the death penalty for religious reasons different than for any other reason? Why is being against abortion for a religious reason any different than being against abortion for an agnostically moral reason?

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    But you see, the Dems only mention God in self-defense against the crafty Republicans who use religion to get the Sky-Daddy boobs to vote against their own interests, etc...

    /sarc

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    I have more respect for a Catholic who is pro-life than supposed devout Catholics like Pelosi and Biden who support abortion.

    Spoken like a true conservative.

    I wish the fuck the fake libertarians would go away.

  • rudehost||

    I wonder if it's possible that he has decided hypocrites don't deserve respect and it has nothing to do with whether he is a "real" libertarian?

    Too advanced for you?

  • mpercy||

    Kudos to you.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Butt: When are you leaving Reason.com?

  • ||

    Feel free to be the pied piper and lead them out.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    The pied piper should be the first rat to go jump in the lake.

  • Chuckles_the_Snarky_Piggy||

    I agree. I have the utmost respect for individuals who make the good moral choice of honoring other individuals natural right to make their own moral choices.

    If all the self-righteous nitwits would quick trying to blockade the path to Hell, the other place would be a lot less crowded, which would be the only reason I would want to go there.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    I agree that the fakes should leave. Your chance to start, plug.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    The more "fake libertarians" that are driven away, the briefer the "libertarian moment" gets. Government, from the beltway to the county tax office, hates being constrained. The two party system is not easily dissolved, the public is unlikely to agree on even token efforts to rein in the growth of government, and libertarians as a political force are sparse and isolated. Tests for ideological purity are for maoist guerillas, not libertarians.

  • ||

    IIRC, weren't Democrats concerned about reaching 'values' voters a few years ago?

  • damikesc||

    I imagine they would question a Muslim about Islam's lovely views on equality of the sexes and homosexuality and all...

  • Brandybuck||

    Muslims vote for Democrats, so the Democrats won't call out a Muslim for his religion. I mean duh. The Democrats hate Catholics because most catholics vote... um... Oh shit! Most Catholics vote Democrats! I guess it just goes to show that the Democrats are willing to throw one base under the bus to virtue signal to another base.

  • Robert||

    It's because Catholics are more critical of Catholics than of others, or than others are.

  • Mickey Rat||

    I remember when it was terrible that anyone questioned JFK's fitness for office becayse he was a Catholic. Of course, that was before Roe, and begore Dems thought it was the appropriate role for government to force people purchasing health insurance to buy contraceptive coverage.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The real dogma lefties are talking about is following lefty dogma.

    These Senators want to know if these judges will potential lefty useful idiots like Kennedy and Roberts or stalwarts of the Constitution like Thomas, Scalia, and Gorsuch.

  • Lester224||

    Stalwarts except when it comes to forcing their religious beliefs on others.

    Oops I'm going to start a flame war with the theocrats.

  • aajax||

    I think that is much less of a problem than in the past, to the point where it is almost negligible. Do you have specific concerns?

  • Number 2||

    And when Barrett was questioned about her Catholicism, the Republican members of the committee said what in response? Did they just sit there and let it happen? Did they remind their Democrat colleagues of the history of anti-Catholic bigotry in this country?

  • ||

    I'm sure the Republicans vigorously leapt to her defense just as vigorously as they have moved to enact their agenda now that they control both houses of congress and the White House.

  • Brandybuck||

    The Democrats are just virtue signaling to their amoralist base. If it were a Muslim nominee they would have no problem with her religion.

    Senate confirmations are nothing more than theater. If you can't find something to heckle the nominee on then you start heckling their religion, or their lack of religion, or the family, or their cat, or whatever. You must signal to your base that you do not tolerate Republican nominees.

  • ||

    Bingo, all it is. I really, really wish the candidate used the word diverse/diversity when answering the religious question. Ideologues have no idea what to do when they're vapid rhetoric is used against them.

  • ||

    Hell, isn't the current head of the DNC a 'devout' Muslim?

    No - he's the Deputy Chair.

    And he was actually raised Catholic and went to a Jesuit high school.

    My read is that he's a garden-variety Jesuit-educated, practically-atheist SJW Catholic who embraced Islam as an extreme form of SJW penance.

  • ||

    That was supposed to be in response to BYODB.

  • BYODB||

    Huh, I thought Ellison managed to get the leadership position. Good to know!

  • aajax||

    Islam is not anti-abortion, and it is unlikely that a Muslim nominee would be aggressively anti-LGBT rights. So, a devout Muslim is a safer bet for a secular government position than a devout Catholic or evangelical.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Nothing wrong with an open mike in that case. Let the Dems spew their hatred of sane people.

  • BYODB||

    So what Bernie is saying is that he shouldn't be allowed to ask questions since he's Jewish?


    I think all of them are perfectly aware that none of their questions matter, they're going to decide based on a (R) or (D) and nothing beyond that.


    Hell, isn't the current head of the DNC a 'devout' Muslim? I'm not sure they want to really get into the whole religious test thing when all of them probably upsold their religious 'values' in campaign commercials.


    That said, Republicans asking a lot of questions of someone's lack of faith would be just as idiotic but I'm not sure that's come up before.

  • CE||

    the only religious belief they really care about is AGW

  • aajax||

    Sorry, but the burden of evidence is now on the anti-AGW folks, because if they are wrong, we're screwed.

  • aajax||

    People with a declared lack of faith will not be nominated in the first place, by either party.

  • CE||

    "Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?" Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked...

    Do you know who else was concerned about Papists gaining power?

  • ||

    T. S. Eliot?

  • BYODB||

    Guy Fawkes? Well, in the 'pro' column that is.

  • aajax||

    KKK.

  • Robert||

    What was funnier was when almost 40 yrs. ago People for the American Way had a b'cast ad (don't remember if it was radio or TV) criticizing persons for telling Xtians what Xtianity required them to believe, or who to vote for.

  • Sugarsail||

    I wake up everyday hoping for the news that Feinstein has breathed her last breath. Too old, too evil, for too long.

  • Sugarsail||

    Liberalism is the state religion of Marxists including their prophetic apocalypse of global warming doom. So lets recognize it as a religion and use the establishment clause to dismantle the left and re-instate constitutional ethics.

  • Sugarsail||

    Liberalism is the state religion of Marxists including their prophetic apocalypse of global warming doom. So lets recognize it as a religion and use the establishment clause to dismantle the left and re-instate constitutional ethics.

  • aajax||

    What are you on about?

  • ||

    Meanwhile, in Canada the idiot Trudeau and his idiot Liberal party came up with the idiotic Bill C-16 only idiots could come up with.

    The gist? Basically they outlawed biology.

    Party and ideology of science.

    The DNC and the Liberal party are not rational forces; they're reactionaries.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    Yesterday: Elizabeth Warren's progressive convictions come from her strongly held convictions about Christianity (actual headline from some fluff piece)

    Today: Oooooh so you're religious? Quiz time!

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Elizabeth Warren is Vladimir Lenin in drag.

  • Wolverine||

    Would Dick Durbin have asked John F Kennedy this same question

  • aajax||

    If JFK were up for a court nomination perhaps. But JFK made his views on the relationship between church teachings and political responsibilities pretty clear compared to any court nominees, who routinely and assiduously duck the question.

  • aajax||

    Probably it would be preferable to just come out and ask them their positions on abortion and gay marriage, except they will never get an answer to such a question from any judicial nominee. The next best thing is to highlight their religious convictions. (Catholics seem to be very overrepresented among Republican nominees. I don't think that is a coincidence.) I don't have a lot of sympathy for them, given that an known atheist would never even be nominated, much less confirmed. Talk about religious tests.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Am I seriously the only one who clicked on this just to make note of how hot she is?

    Man... I hope this isn't a sign of dwindling sexism and normalization of gender equality... Because honestly, I just don't think I could cope with that...

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Dear David, 1997 was twenty years ago. This is nothing new. The horse escaped the barn a long, long time ago. People who only just figured this out are saps.

  • gphx||

    It's an odd world we live in where people who believe in invisible men decide who is crazy and who is sane.

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