Thursday, August 07, 2003

The U. S. Senate’s New Know-Nothings Institute a Religious Test

"No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." -- Article VI, Constitution of the United States

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s –the “good ol’ days” of open hostility and discrimination against Catholic immigrants by Protestant political activists known collectively as the Know-Nothing Party-- signs bearing messages such as “Workers Needed; Irish Need Not Apply” were commonplace. Thankfully, most Americans eventually came to their senses and public sentiment went against the bigots.

However, it seems you can’t keep anti-Catholic bigotry down for very long:

Enter U. S. Senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, as well as Ted Kennedy, Richard Durbin, Tom Daschle, and Patrick Leahy (nominal cafeteria Catholics who have repeatedly sided with the abortion lobby) –all Democrats and most of them on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Enter also, before that Committee, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, a devout Catholic who opposes abortion and is a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Consider also the fact that, by all media accounts, during his tenure as Alabama’s Attorney General Pryor strictly abided by all Supreme Court precedents and decisions vis the abortion issue despite his pro-life commitment and his dedication to Catholic teaching in general.

But this was not good enough for the New Know-Nothing Party composed of Schumer, Feinstein, Kennedy, and Leahy. For them, the fact that Pryor is a committed orthodox Catholic and past president of one of his state’s pro-life organizations alone disqualified him for a seat in the U. S. Court of Appeals.

For example, Schumer announced that Pryor “feels so deeply, so passionately about Roe v. Wade that we can't believe he'll be objective.”

And Feinstein, in a response to Pryor, noted that "Virtually in every area you have extraordinarily strong views which continue to come out in a number of different ways.” [Pryor had referred to the Roe vs. Wade decision as "the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law".] “Your comments about Roe make one believe, could he really, suddenly, move away from those comments and be a judge?"

Lest some dismiss this as a fluke or just a case of Democrats being merely anti-Republican rather than anti-Catholic, all recent judiciary nominees who also “just happen” to be devout, practicing Catholics received the same treatment by the Committee’s Democratic members and other liberal Democrats in the Senate. Among these rejected Catholic candidates were Leon Holmes (in the eastern district of Arkansas), Carolyn Kuhl (in the Ninth Circuit), Bob Conrad (eastern district of North Carolina) and three of the four other stalled nominees from Michigan (Sixth Circuit).

The Holmes case is especially repugnant: During his hearing before the Committee, Feinstein ripped out of context statements Holmes had written in religious (not legal) articles he wrote for Catholic theological (not law) publications and spun these as "evidences" of his alleged unfitness for office as a judge.

As William Donohoe, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, put it so succinctly regarding the Pryor nomination, "[I]t is precisely Pryor's religious convictions that are being scrutinized. Given the cast of mind of some of his critics, it makes it virtually impossible for practicing Catholics to ascend to the federal bench." Similar objections to the Democratic Senators’ approach have also been voiced by leading Protestants such as Chuck Colson.

But Catholics and other Christians are not the only ones horrified by the Senate Democrats’ conduct vis Pryor and other Catholic nominees. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America wrote this regarding Pryor: "We are profoundly troubled by the manner in which this opposition has been framed. . . . We are deeply troubled by those who have implied that a person of faith cannot serve in a high-level government post that may raise issues at odds with his or her personal beliefs."

So the real test for "Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" in the minds the New Know-Nothings is not Mr. Pryor’s record but rather Pryor’s, and therefore any Catholic’s, ”deeply held beliefs;” specifically, his deeply held Catholic beliefs. It is, at the bottom line, a religious test, a test specifically prohibited by Article IV of the U. S. Constitution, the same document the New Know-Nothings repeatedly claim to revere.

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