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God's Servant First: Religious Tests and American Pluralism

 

by Aaron Matthew Weldon

 

January 30, 2019

Two summers ago, a Catholic nominee to the federal judiciary was interrogated about her faith in an exchange that included the line, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” More recently, several Catholic nominees have endured questions about their membership in the Knights of Columbus, a ludicrous line of questioning that prompted a multi-faith coalition, including representatives of the USCCB, to urge senators to drop these religious tests.

The senators do not ask questions about the faith of nominees out of concern for the nominees’ understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, the Eucharist, or the Blessed Virgin Mary. No, they are using questions about faith as a proxy for the nominees’ positions on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, issues which are themselves highly contested and far from settled in civil law.

Let’s be clear. These senators are strongly suggesting that a Catholic who tries to live in accordance with Church teaching cannot serve as a federal judge. They are imposing a religious test.

Religious tests make sense in a country with an established religion. However, our country does not have an established religion, and so the Constitution explicitly forbids religious tests, saying “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” American society is pluralistic, and attempts to impose religious tests are simply at odds with who we are.

It’s helpful to consider what these religious tests do. They plainly do not reveal the nominees’ abilities to interpret and apply the law. Rather, they aim to stigmatize the faith of the nominee. The senators are essentially hanging a sign over the federal judiciary that reads, “Catholics not welcome.”

If our political leaders are interested in working to bring people together rather than to widen divisions, then imposing a religious test on Catholics seems especially unwise. Catholics make up about 20 percent of the population, and Catholics take great pride in the contributions our Church has made to this country. But when our best and brightest are publicly and unscrupulously attacked, anger and resentment can creep in, as would be the case for any faith community.

Catholics, along with people of other faiths, have at times faced discrimination when seeking to serve in public office. The presence of people of many faiths serving in public office today is a real achievement in which Americans can take great pride. Religious discrimination against women and men of faith should remain in the past and not be part of the future of this country.


Aaron Matthew Weldon is Program Specialist for the Office of Religious Liberty.

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