Democrats find another religious heretic

Staff Columnist

(By C.C. Pecknold in Houses of Worship, The Wall Street Journal, Friday, September 15, 2017)

“When does an ideology become a religion?  That’s the question raised by last week’s confirmation hearing for Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, a federal judicial nominee.  When Ms. Barrett appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the standard question-and-answer session quickly devolved into an interrogation  of her Catholic faith.

‘Dogma and law are two different things,’ Sen. Dianne Feinstein

(D., Calif.) lectured Ms. Barrett.  ‘I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.’  The senator had misread   a 1998 article Ms. Barrett co-wrote on whether Catholic judges may recuse themselves in cases involving the death penalty.  The Catholic Church teaches that if capital punishment is not necessary to protect innocents, or if guilt is not absolutely known, then it is unjust.  Still Ms. Barrett had written:  ‘Judges cannot – nor should they try to – align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge.’

Several Republican senators objected to Ms. Feinstein’s line of questioning as an unconstitutional ‘religous test for office.  Democratic lawmakers persisted.  Sen. Dick Durbin (D.,Ill.), himself Catholic, asked this McCarthyesque question:  ‘Do you consider yourself an ‘orthodox Catholic?  The implication was not that you couldn’t be a Catholic and uphold the law, but that you couldn’t be an ‘orthodox’ Catholic and do so.

Mr. Durbin’s attempt to make such a distinction shows that this affair is about more than Catholicism.  It is about an ideology – a politically progressive civil religion – that makes comprehensive claims to which all other religions are expected to conform.”

Pecknold continues: “Judicial nominations have become increasingly politicized since 1987, when Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court was shot down.  The left critiqued Bork in a similar way, though without reference to religion.  Sen. Ted Kennedy didn’t tell Bork the ‘dogma lives loudly within you,’ he simply called the judge a rigid ultraconservative extremist in his views on constitutional law.  Without religion as a pretext, Bork could still be dismissed as a political heretic.

As Western societies have become even more secular and fragmented over the past 30 years, these attacks have become more explicitly about religion.  This summer Sen. Bernie Sanders (I ., Vt.) argued that a Republican operative named Russell Vought should be disqualified to serve in the Office of Management  and Budget because of his views on the eternal destination of Muslim souls.

Yet at the very moment Ms. Feinstein is alienating religious conservatives, two prominent Democrats are pushing a new progressive claim on Christianity.  Sen .Elizabeth Warren (D. Mass.) has spoken to journalists about how her faith shapes her political views.  And Hillary Clinton, who reportedly once considered becoming an ordained minister, has made religion central to her postelection messaging, as the Atlantic reported last month in a story titled ‘Hillary Wants to Preach.’Sens. Feinstein and Durbin were troubled not by Ms. Barrett’s Catholicism, but by her failure to prove her religion could conform to a more dogmatic progressivism.  The ‘religious test’ Democrats want to impose isn’t about religion per se; it’s about ensuring that every religious claim can be bent to more comprehensive political aims.  It’s about defining anyone who dissents from the mores of the sexual revolution as disqualified from public office.  That’s what makes Ms. Feinstein’s questioning so chilling.”

More, concluding:  “Few liberals have spoken out against these religious tests, providing tacit consent for the Democratic Party to continue the practice.  One of America’s major political parties appears prepared to consent to a very different kind of creed from the one the American founders envisioned.  Our forefathers understood religious freedom in positive terms, as freedom for the highest good, God. This ‘first freedom’

was held as the basis of all the political freedoms, including the freedom to dissent and to disagree on matters of law and politics.

Ms. Barrett has spent her career honoring the older creed – not only with her Scalia-like deference to the law, but through respect for freedom of religion and conscience.  Ms. Feinstein honored the new creed, the one dividing an already polarized nation.  A dogmatism now threatens countless Americans’ freedom, and it isn’t Catholicism.”

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