The United States Bishops have denounced the faith-based harassment of judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett for her Christian beliefs as “anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Prof. Barrett holds a named chair of law at the University of Notre Dame and is also the mother of seven children. She was recently appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
In her confirmation hearing earlier this week, Prof. Barrett was grilled on her Catholic faith by several Democratic Senators, in what many commentators suggest bordered on a religious test for public office, which is expressly forbidden by Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.
In a formal statement, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, sharply criticized the line of questioning directed at Barrett during the hearing.
“America has a strong and venerable tradition of pluralism that respects all religious views,” the statement begins. “In this context, this week’s hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is deeply disappointing. Rather than simply consider the professional achievements of a nominee for the federal judiciary, multiple senators challenged her fitness to serve due to her Catholic faith.”
Not only are such questions contrary to the Constitution, which protects the free exercise of one’s faith and rejects religious tests for public office, Lori wrote, they are also offensive to basic human rights and betray a thinly veiled anti-Christian bias.
These questions “harken back to a time in our country when anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order,” the statement reads, and are “a reminder that we must remain vigilant against latent bigotries that may still infect our national soul.”
Archbishop Lori also wondered aloud whether the Senators in question—notably Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)—intended their hazing of Prof. Barrett to intimidate aspiring future justices into keeping their faith to themselves.
“Were the comments of the Senators meant as a warning shot to future law students and attorneys, that they should never discuss their faith in a public forum, if they have aspirations to serve in the federal judiciary?” he asked. “In truth, we should be encouraging faithful, ethical attorneys to serve in public office, not discouraging them by subjecting them to inappropriate, unnecessary interrogation based on their religious beliefs.”
During their questioning, the Senators made express reference to Barrett’s Catholic faith in a way suggesting that such faith was an obstacle to judicial service.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”
Although commentators suggest that the remark was meant as a smear, Catholics throughout the country embraced the statement as a badge of pride, while also mocking the ominous tone of the statement.
For his part, Senator Durbin criticized Barrett’s prior use of the term “orthodox Catholic,” saying it unfairly maligns Catholics who do not hold certain positions about abortion or the death penalty. “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” he asked her, before asking her what she thought of Pope Francis.
In his statement, Archbishop Lori proposed that far from being a disqualifying factor for public office, religious faith should be valued and “celebrated.”
“People of faith—whatever faith they may hold—should not be disqualified because of that faith from serving the public good,” he said. “Rather than hold people of faith in suspicion, our laws and lawmakers should tolerate, if not celebrate, the role faith has in society and in the lives of individuals. To do otherwise is contrary to the ideals of a healthy, pluralistic society.”
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