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The cost of being a faithful citizen

The cost of being a faithful citizen
© Greg Nash

Make no mistake, the faithful citizens of this country will watch the confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Energy: Barrett punts on climate, oil industry recusals | Ex-EPA official claims retaliation in lawsuit | Dems seek to uphold ruling ousting Pendley Amy Coney Barrett is beacon for new kind of feminism in America MORE very closely. This should come as no surprise. Over the past few years, a pattern of targeting the private lives of judicial nominees has accelerated, calling into question whether some members of the U.S. Senate are advocating an unconstitutional religious test for public office.

In 2017, during the confirmation hearing of Judge Barrett to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Pelosi, Mnuchin push stimulus talks forward, McConnell applies brakes MORE (D-Calif.) and Richard DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Pelosi, Mnuchin push stimulus talks forward, McConnell applies brakes Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Ill.) implied that Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith should weigh against her appointment. Durbin questioned whether Judge Barrett considered herself an “orthodox Catholic,” while Feinstein notoriously said, “The dogma lives loudly within you.” Three subsequent judicial nominees were challenged for their affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, a well-respected Catholic fraternal organization.

This enflamed Catholics nationwide, prompting widespread condemnation across the political spectrum. Fr. James Martin, S.J., retweeted the video clip of Feinstein’s statement, saying it was a “Throwback to an era when Catholics were seen as unthinking tools of the Pope. You can be a good Catholic citizen in our country. Ask JFK.” Religious denominations made it clear that such a religious test for public office is not only unacceptable but unconstitutional, and that if this pattern continues, it will be met with strong opposition. 

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Sadly, only a few days after President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE nominated Judge Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, her faith once again has become an issue. Articles immediately began to circulate about Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith as well as her affiliation with a faith-based organization called the People of Praise. The narrative (which is false) about the People of Praise being the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s fictional novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is but one example of the media’s willingness to distort facts to shift public opinion, even if the reputation of a good person is destroyed in the process. These tactics come at a great cost to our nation and should not be tolerated. 

As bad as such calumny is from the media, it is entirely reprehensible when such attacks are propagated by members of the United States Senate in the confirmation process. Members of Congress take an oath to “defend the Constitution,” including the provision “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office.” The expected professionalism of the Senate during a judicial confirmation hearing should respect, at all times, the rights of citizens, regardless of religious affiliation. 

All citizens asked to serve in public office deserve, and should expect, a fair hearing, one that explores their professional qualifications to serve, not their religious affiliation. A price this country will pay if an arbitrary religious test is applied for government service is that well-qualified citizens nominated for public office will give pause, or even turn away, when faced with the ramifications to their reputations and the impact on their families, especially if the government they seek to serve fails to protect their constitutional rights in the process. 

The nominees personally bear the weight of these unjust and unconstitutional actions. But the cost to this country is immeasurable in the loss of qualified candidates willing to enter public service. Putting philosophical differences aside, is it truly worth risking judicial candidates like Judge Barrett, who is genuinely well-respected by her peers, who has demonstrated an extraordinary intellectual capacity for the law, and who is certainly qualified to be considered for the Supreme Court, just for the chance to demean her personal, private faith? This is unacceptable and diminishes the dignity of the confirmation process. It was not so long ago, after all, that Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett MORE was confirmed on a 96-3 vote and Antonin Scalia with 90-0, both receiving bipartisan consent despite differing religions and philosophies on the law. 

At a time when civility in public discourse has reached an all-time low, the Senate has an opportunity to rise above partisan politics, to unite to ensure a fair hearing takes place and to heal the broken process of judicial nominations for the sake of the country. In the case of Judge Barrett, Senate Judiciary Committee members may do so by limiting questions to her professional qualifications and by strongly rebuking any anti-Catholic attacks on her personal faith.

As citizens watch the confirmation hearing of Judge Barrett, they will remember the recent words of House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.), who stated “it doesn’t matter what her faith is or what religion she believes,” and hope the speaker’s message will resonate with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Faithful citizens will be watching.

Joshua McCaig is the founding president of the Catholic Bar Association and a practicing attorney in Kansas City, Missouri.