According to Harvard’s Noah Feldman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein's "anti-Catholic questions are an outrage.”
And we condemn the apparent attitude among a subset of politicians that believe it’s acceptable to subject devoutly religious individuals to a kind of “religious test” for public office.
Last week, Sen. Feinstein, D-California, undertook what others have rightly called an “anti-Catholic” line of questioning directed at Donald Trump’s nominee for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Amy Barrett.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Sen. Feinstein said to Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”
Being a devout Catholic — having the dogma live “loudly within you” — apparently wasn’t a concern for just Sen. Feinstein. Even as Barrett assured the senators she would judge according to the law and not her personal religious convictions, Sen. Mazie Hirono D-Hawaii, was skeptical, stating that one of her academic articles (written with a professor nearly two decades back), “is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges, and particularly with regard to Catholic judges.”
And then Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, a fellow Catholic, asked her pointedly:
“What’s an ‘orthodox’ Catholic?” and “Do you consider yourself an ‘orthodox’ Catholic?”
A justifiably surprised Barrett responded in part: “If you're asking whether I'm a faithful Catholic, I am, although I would stress that my own personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”
Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as well as Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, were also present at the hearing, and we applaud them for speaking out against the questioning. All three are, coincidentally, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, and which is no stranger to religiously motivated Senate inquiries.
We wish Barrett's hearing was an isolated incident. A few months ago, however, during the confirmation hearing of Russell Vought — President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, took issue with an article Vought wrote regarding a controversy at the Christian-based Wheaton College.
Wheaton fired one of its political science professors, Larycia Hawkins, after she posted a Facebook message that was aimed at showing solidarity with Muslims. Vought supported his alma mater, Wheaton, writing that Muslims who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior are “condemned.”
“I understand you are a Christian!” a frustrated Sanders said at the time. “But there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
A flummoxed Vought attempted to avoid answering a question that clearly dealt with Christian theology.
Sanders responded: “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”
Regardless of one’s opinion of the actions of Wheaton College and its defense by Vought, the signal to people of faith is clear: when you enter the public square you must shed your faith or hide it within the walls of your own home. A public faith is unacceptable; it’s incompatible with public service and equal rights.
Preventing these types of government-imposed litmus tests on one's permissible religious beliefs is at least part of what the Founder's contemplated when they framed Article Six of the U.S. Constitution, stating: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Sens. Feinstein and Durbin co-sponsored a resolution in the Senate “condemning bigotry” and religious-based discrimination. Apparently 16 years later these senators have forgotten what it looks like.