IN THE presidential campaign, a new threshold in church-state relations was crossed when Catholic bishops threatened to exclude Senator John Kerry from the Eucharist because of his support for Roe v. Wade. The Senate Judiciary Committee is now fully justified in asking these bishops whether the same threats would apply to Supreme Court nominee Judge Roberts, if he were to vote to uphold Roe v. Wade.
The bishops have made this question legitimate because Americans no longer know whether a Catholic judge can hear abortion cases without an automatic conflict of interest.
Asking the bishops to testify would be healthy. If they rescinded the threats made against Kerry, then Roberts would feel free to make his decision without the appearance of a conflict of interest, and Catholic politicians who support Roe v. Wade would gain renewed confidence in their advocacy. If the bishops repeated or confirmed their threats, the Senate Judiciary Committee should draft legislation calling for the automatic recusal of Catholic judges from cases citing Roe v. Wade as a precedent.
That’s right. The author of the article Christopher Morris is advocating a law be passed to automatically mandate the recusal of a judge based solely on his religious beliefs.
Actually, this opens up some marvelous opportunities for legislative mischief aimed at miscreant judges. Imagine being able to bar minority judges from ruling on civil rights cases. Or white judges from ruling on reverse discrimination cases. Or women judges from ruling on gender equality cases. Or Quaker judges from ruling on death penalty cases.
While we’re at it, why don’t we make Catholic judges sew a great big red “C” on their cloak and make them clean the Supreme Court bathrooms?
A little too much hyperbole for you this early in the morning? Try not to choke on your danish when reading this:
One would think Catholic judges would want such a measure in place as a means of honoring their own convictions. That this proposal will no doubt be controversial should not be a reason for failing to pursue it: Political advocacy by religious organizations is on the rise and will only become stronger. If the subject is ducked this time by the Senate Judiciary Committee, it will only come up later in a more aggravated form.
It’s time to have this dialog. Without it, the decisions of our highest court, already tainted by the Bush-Gore election, will increasingly be perceived as self-serving, political, and illegitimate.
I like Dale Frank’s take on this:
Why, you know I hadn’t thought about that before. But, while we’re on the subject, maybe Jews could be forced to wear yellow stars, so they can more easily identify their fellow co-religionists in public. I mean, you know, they’d feel so much more secure if they could look around in a crowd and see a fellow landsmann, wouldn’t they?
Please note that all decisions of the Court have been “tainted” for their defiance of the Democratic party in upholding state election law in Florida which was passed by state legislators who were voted in by the people of the State of Florida. It’s amazing that to this day, liberal partisans like Mr. Morris are still grumpy over the fact that the Supreme Court refused to nullify state law and dictate to the state of Florida how the people’s representatives should conduct the business of elections.
But, hey! Why let a little thing like, you know, the law stand in the way when there are Christians to be publicly gored:
In theory, the same Holy Spirit that made evangelicals born again could also move them to change a social or political view at any time. (In drafting mandatory recusal legislation, senators should probe the foundations of these beliefs and persuade themselves that evangelicals retained a meaningful, not just a technical, choice.) Inquiry into Judaism, Islam, and other religions should also focus on whether any of them make threats against members who hold particular views about abortion.
In other words, in order to see if our Christian judge “retained a meaningful, not just technical choice” in their ability to change their minds about Roe V Wade, we should delve deeply into their religious convictions by asking them all sorts of personal questions not related to their ability to carry out their duties as impartial jurists.
Mr. Morris is not a serious man. He is instead, in need of attention. I recommend his mommy come to his home in Vermont and deliver a few well aimed whaps to his backside and give him the love and consideration he so obviously missed out on as a child.
If it’s attention he seeks, Mr. Morris has got it. And perhaps a little history lesson is in order for Mr. Morris and anyone else who seeks to revive religious litmus tests for any issue and for any public servant whose personal beliefs may conflict with the law.
The anti-Catholic bigotry that roiled this country’s politics for more than 300 years reached a zenith of sorts in the election of 1928 which saw Democrat Al Smith, a Catholic, face off against Herbert Hoover. The nauseating display of ant-Catholic bigotry which directly led to Smith’s defeat convinced both parties that nominating a Catholic for high office was the kiss of death.
This all changed in the election of 1960. Historians have long pondered the reason for the dissipation of anti-Catholic sentiment in the electorate that finally allowed for a Catholic to be elected President. At first, as historian Thomas Carty points out, there was even a high level of anti-Catholic bigotry among liberals:
Author James A. Michener recalled feeling quite startled when guests at publisher Bennett Cerf’s early 1960 dinner party challenged John F. Kennedy’s presidential candidacy on religious grounds. In an educated, professional crowd, Michener encountered “American liberals [who] ... had the most serious and deep-seated fears of a Catholic in the Presidency.” One individual called the Vatican “dictatorial, savage[,] ... reactionary … [and] brutal in its lust for power.” Others feared that clerical pressures would determine Kennedy’s political decisions. One colleague declared that “Irish priests” would manipulate a Catholic president “as if he were their toy.” A Catholic at Michener’s table characterized her church as antidemocratic and incompatible with church-state separation and religious liberty. According to Michener, these individuals claimed to know many other ideological liberals who mistrusted Catholic presidential candidates.
Kennedy had to prove to Kingmakers – even Catholic ones like Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago – that his Catholicism would not be a liability in a general election. The first test of his viability was in the West Virginia primary where his main rival, Hubert Humphrey, tried to play the old “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” card with elliptical references to Kennedy’s faith.
Kennedy fought back with both political savvy and a few dirty tricks of his own, trying to tar Humphrey as a draft dodger during WW II (he served variously as state director of war production training and reemployment and State chief of Minnesota war service program in 1942 and assistant director of the War Manpower Commission in 1943) while addressing the issue of his Catholicism head on.
In what author Theodor H. White pointed to as a public appearance almost as important as JFK’s speech at the Ministerial Association of Greater Houston, Kennedy was asked point blank at a press conference about his religion. Rather than remain silent on the issue as he had in Wisconsin two weeks before, Kennedy framed the issue as one of fairness. He said “I do not believe that forty million Americans should lose the right to run for president on the day they were baptized.” In short, Kennedy challenged voters to prove they were not bigots by voting for him. It was a brilliant political stroke and Kennedy’s subsequent win effectively ended Humphrey’s challenge.
Later that fall in Houston, Kennedy buried the issue before one of the most conservative Protestant organizations in the country, the aforementioned Ministers group. In one of the more memorable lines, Kennedy once again, gives people a reason not to use anti-Catholicism as a reason to vote against him:
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials—and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
On election day, the American people made a conscious choice to elect a Catholic President not because of his religion, but in spite of it. Now Mr. Morris would have us choose judges for exactly the opposite reason. In Mr. Morris’ world, either Catholic judges need not apply or they should be hamstrung with litmus tests and background checks and God knows what else. Once you let loose the dogs of legislation on judicial qualifications, we’ll have litmus tests for all sorts of issues; gay marriage, school prayer, eminent domain, and on and on.
For a country founded both because of religious freedom and in spite of religious differences, we’ve done remarkably well in tolerating one another’s religious viewpoints. But politics is another matter. There are still barriers to high office for people of certain faiths that need to come down.
Mr. Morris isn’t helping matters any.