Will Democrats Do the Right Thing Respecting Catholics?

Anti-Catholicism, it has been said, is the anti-Semitism of intellectuals.

I’m not sure anyone would accuse Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) of being an intellectual. Her colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee such as Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are also safe from that accusation (and simple courtesy requires that we pass by Hawaii’s Senator Mazie Hirono in silence). But by dint of long occupation in the corridors of power, they all have imbibed the shallow, pseudo-enlightened anti-Catholicism that comes with membership in The Club. 

Examples are legion, but one memorable exhibition came in 2017. Amy Coney Barrett, a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School and a prominent Roman Catholic, was nominated by President Trump for a position on the Court of Appeals in the Seventh Circuit. Sen. Feinstein, like a mosquito buzzing furiously to get inside the netting and draw blood, clearly was troubled by Barrett’s Catholicism, especially as it related the question of abortion in general and Roe v. Wade in particular. “The dogma lives loudly within you,” Sen. Feinstein observed, “and that’s a concern.” 

Judge Barrett pointed out that she would not, as an Appeals Court Judge, be in a position to adjudicate the Constitutionality of Roe v. Wade. Moreover, she said, her originalist judicial philosophy respected precedent and strove to keep politics out of the judicial process. We have politicians to do politics. She would follow the law, not her personal preferences, in deciding cases. 

The exchange went viral, serving to highlight the reflexive hostility to Catholics, and indeed to practicing Christians generally, among our elites. It also highlighted a deep, er, tension between the habitual badgering of Catholic nominees about the niceties of their faith and the prohibition against religious tests for office enshrined with all possible clarity in Article VI of the Constitution. “[N]o religious Test,” that brief Article concludes, “shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The president of the Anti-Defamation League, the president of Princeton University, the president of Notre Dame University, and the Harvard Law Review, are among those who, stirred by Feinstein’s admonition, have publicly declared their concern about this violation of the spirit if not the letter of Article VI. 

Nor was Judge Barrett’s experience unique. A year after her interrogation, Brian Buescher was up for a district court judgeship in Nebraska. Buescher is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a huge worldwide Catholic charity organization. To Senators Mazie Hirono and Kamala Harris, however, it is an “extremist” group because it endorses the official Catholic position on abortion. Hirono asked Buescher whether he intended to renounce his membership in the KofC while Harris asked whether he was aware of the organization’s position on abortion when he joined.  

And on it goes. But now, exhibiting an admirable spirit of charity, a group of Catholic leaders are addressing letters to five Democratic senators who face competitive races in November. The recently formed Catholic Coalition Against Religious Tests For Office is urging these senators to introduce a plank into the Democratic platform that would affirm their commitment to upholding the provisions of Article VI. 

“The Democratic Party,” the letter notes, “now stands for abortion on demand paid for by taxpayers.” It also notes the continued harassment of Little Sisters of the Poor by many Democratic attorneys general. “You can imagine,” the letter admonishes the senators, “how this appears to the Catholic communities where the Little Sisters of the Poor are deeply respected and loved: Here is a group of ambitious political lawyers seeking to rise to higher office by appealing to extremist fringe groups that deeply hate Catholicism by engaging in a squalid and reprehensible harassment of remarkable women who give up their lives to help the poor, the elderly, and indigent.” 

It goes without saying that in asking these five embattled senators to take a stand against religious bigotry, the Coalition is asking them to buck the party leadership, represented by Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as well as by Feinstein, Harris, and Booker. But it would also materially increase their chances of victory in races that are sure to be hotly contested. The five senators are Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Doug Jones (Ala.). 

Ed Martin, leader of the Coalition, notes that “the Democratic Party does not need to be struggling with the Catholic issue at the same time it is struggling with Defund the Police or a Green New Deal that their opposition will be saying is going to wipe out hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs.” 

True, too true. Although he acknowledges that he personally supports President Trump, Martin also stresses the principle of religious freedom “transcends any party—both parties should respect Catholics and I hope the Democrat Party takes this chance to remove this blight on their work. Democrats are invited to lead on this important issue.” 

It will be interesting to see if they do. 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: Jean-Philippe Tournut/Getty Images

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