The secular left, Democrats can't impose a religious test on Amy Coney Barrett

My husband's faith was criticized in 2017 when he was grilled by Congress. If we want diverse, quality public servants, we can't attack their faith.

Mary Vought
Opinion contributor

Congressional Democrats who have spent the past four years fixated on the Constitution’s emoluments clause might want to focus on another portion of our nation’s founding document.

Article VI, Section 3 states that lawmakers and federal employees “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This passage could end up front-and-center in the Senate hearings over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

During the 2017 confirmation hearings for her current appointment to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett faced harsh questioning from Judiciary Committee Democrats about her Catholic faith and beliefs. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked the nominee, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” California's Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, infamously said that “so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling” arising from Barrett’s faith, because “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

A long history of anti-Catholicism

I can relate to the way Senate Democrats treated Barrett then and could treat her at her Supreme Court hearings later this month. Three months prior to Barrett’s 2017 hearing before the Judiciary Committee, my husband, Russ Vought, faced a similar onslaught during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), that committee’s ranking member, said that an article in which my husband gave an account for his Christian faith, and how Jesus Christ is central to it for salvation, meant that “this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”

Not that long ago, prominent Democrats had to overcome these kinds of religious litmus tests themselves. New York Gov. Al Smith faced anti-Catholic bigotry when he ran as the party’s nominee in 1928. And within Feinstein and Sanders’ own lifetimes, John Kennedy had to give voters in the 1960 Democratic primaries repeated assurances that he would not take his policy cues from the pope or Vatican officials.

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In the six decades since Kennedy’s time, however, rapid secularization within the left has resulted in a movement to essentially eradicate religion completely from the public sphere. The pendulum has swung well past eliminating denominational prayer from public schools, such that practically any nominee with firmly held religious beliefs has suddenly become suspect.

We should want the best candidates

But this trend brings with it two main consequences, both of them negative.

First, it will reduce the spectrum of beliefs and experiences among federal employees — an ironic outcome, given the left’s purported emphasis on increasing diversity. If Barrett and my husband faced attacks for holding a Christian faith, what of individuals belonging to more marginal sects?

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Therein lies the other major problem with these attacks, which will discourage Americans from seeking prominent government positions in the first place. Between financial disclosures and background checks, the Senate confirmation process already poses a high gauntlet. Adding in attacks on a nominees’ faiths or personal lives — even before her official nomination, one former Hill staffer attacked the legality of Barrett’s adopted children on Twitter — will make the process so grueling as to dissuade all but the hardiest individuals.

Democrats may disagree with Judge Barrett’s political views or even her judicial philosophy; they have every right to do so. But when they took their oath to uphold the Constitution, lawmakers, by definition, swore to disregard nominees’ religious beliefs. During the Barrett hearings, they should uphold their vow to the Constitution and to the American people.

Mary Vought is the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Follow her on Twitter: @MaryVought