I’m not Catholic; my parents just liked the name. But anyone who cares for law and liberty should be appalled by the notion that Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s faith should disqualify her from serving as a Supreme Court justice.
The fear that Catholic-influenced thought is un-American is older than the republic. The English Protestant tradition identified Catholicism with “popery,” political absolutism and foreign influence—all the undemocratic spirits inimical to the freedom-loving Englishman. This is what John Wilkes, an English patriot dear to the Founders, meant when he said that Edmund Burke’s rhetoric “stank of whiskey and potatoes.”
These attitudes took firm root in the American colonies. Long before Boston became a cynosure of American Catholicism, its inhabitants commemorated the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot on Nov. 5, 1605, as Pope’s Day, a holiday of bonfires, bigotry and a little light rioting. As the first English Tories were Catholics and monarchists, so Catholics became notable among the Tories of the American Revolution.
The technical term is anticlericalism. This, like most abstractions and euphemisms, is deliberate deceit. The only clerics that anticlericalists have consistently and violently opposed have been Catholic. As Voltaire, that icon of tolerance, so intolerantly said of the Roman church: Écrasez l’infâme. “Crush the loathsome thing.”
This ignoble tradition runs through the English-speaking tradition of rights and sovereignty. As late as 1960, John F. Kennedy had to promise that he wasn’t taking orders from the pope, or at least wouldn’t listen to them if he was. Since then, the march of freedom has allowed Jews and Muslims to share the burden of insult about dual loyalty.
The moderate left has usually sought to annex religious ethics into the public square rather than crush them. Until recently, it was said that the British Labour Party’s inspirations were more Methodist than Marxist. The radical left, though, has always been violently anticlerical. When you’re in the business of millenarian redemption, you don’t need the competition.
If we consider the current state of American public life and institutions, it’s clear that the problem isn’t religious influence but its absence. As secular liberalism grows ever further from its historical roots in the religious spirit, its moral and spiritual fruits wither. It becomes, as the sorry fates of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center show, merely fashionable.
It is an indubitable but indigestible fact of American and European history that our notions of free conscience and other sacred rights emerged from Protestants’ struggle for religious freedom. Nor could the equality of souls have ended up in the Declaration of Independence without the prior finding in Genesis 1:27 that all are created b’tselem elohim—in the image of God.
Speaking of creation, one of the allegedly disqualifying factors in Judge Barrett’s nomination was that she is a mother of seven. If Ruth Bader Ginsburg had seven children, the left would have praised her for “having it all” and demanded hereditary succession on the bench. The Barretts’ septet were used as proxies for greater discords and other counts: the numbers of voters that each party can add to its rolls, by natalism or immigration, the number of conservatives on the bench, the number of weeks at which abortion can legally be performed.
A society of laws governs from precedent. In this case, President Obama and the Democrats set a precedent in 2016 when they tried to install Merrick Garland on the bench after the death of Antonin Scalia. A government that wishes to avoid collapse seeks common ground of the kind found by Scalia and Ginsburg, two justices of different political and juridical philosophies who nevertheless went to the opera together. A Supreme Court that is the only institution the American people still trust will listen to the public and even moderate its prior rulings in the light of experience.
Judge Barrett can now explain her values to the Democratic inquisitors at a Senate hearing. Let the public watch and listen, and decide whether her antagonists’ conduct, her answers and the Senate’s vote should influence their votes in November. The alternative is to forestall the workings of the nomination process and American democracy. That, unfortunately, is what Judge Barrett’s detractors have in mind. Forgive them, Lord: They know exactly what they’re doing.
Mr. Green is deputy editor of the Spectator (US).
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