By Andrew Seidel
FFRF Staff Attorney
“The point is, that any Catholic in public office, his first commitment has to be to his faith…” — Bishop Thomas Tobin, November 23, 2009 on Hardball
The day the Freedom From Religion Foundation ran its full-page New York Times ad —criticizing the “all-male, all-Roman Catholic majority” on the Supreme Court for putting “religious wrongs over women's rights” in the Hobby Lobby case — Cardinal Timothy Dolan facetiously thanked FFRF. On the other hand, an apoplectic Bill Donahue, representing the Catholic League, blustered. Finally, we’d allegedly given them something to feel persecuted about. Dolan “prayed” and “hoped” for more fodder for “talk on Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States.” His expectations, or perhaps his faith, blinded him to the point of the ad.
The Brothers D portray our ad as an attack on Catholics instead of Catholic dogma as our ad’s large headline, “Dogma should not trump our civil liberties,” indicated. Our ad notes that the Hobby Lobby majority consists of every male Roman Catholic on the high court. This is a fact. Six justices — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Sonia Sotomayor — identify as Roman Catholic. There is excellent cause to question the impartiality of any truly devout Catholic justice on an issue such as access to birth control.
These beliefs are required by Catholic law. As I pointed out earlier in a blog post, “Bill O’Reilly is not a Catholic, and neither are you,” Catholic Canon law explicitly and rather appallingly requires “a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals . . .” Canon 752. Supreme Pontiffs have made several declarations unequivocally condemning birth control and contraception. Ergo, Catholics must submit to this doctrine, even if it means an AIDS epidemic kills millions of Africans.
To call yourself a Roman Catholic means something. It means that you believe certain things and follow certain rules: You believe that a cracker becomes human flesh and that consumption of that flesh is a holy communion with god. You must submit your intellect and will to this nonsense as surely as you must submit to the other Catholic teachings. If you don’t believe that magic words change the atomic and molecular makeup of matter, you’re not Catholic. If you think that cannibalism is distasteful as opposed to divine, you’re not Catholic.
Accordingly, Justice Scalia believes in the literal, corporeal existence of the Devil: “I even believe in the Devil… he’s a real person.” FFRF’s ad suggested that justices’ dogmatic adherence to Catholic doctrine may have implications for their ability to judge a case. If Scalia believes in the Devil because “Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine!” why should we not think Catholic doctrine on birth control might impact his Hobby Lobby decision?
Roman Catholic Church actually demands that Catholic judges obey Catholic law when deciding civil legal issues. For instance, Pope Pius XII addressed the Union of Catholic Jurists in 1949 and “outlined the obligations of Catholic civil judges under ecclesiastical law. The Catholic judge, he said, may not issue a decision that ‘would oblige those affected by it to perform . . . an act which in itself is contrary to the law of God and of the Church.’ The judge ‘cannot shirk responsibility for his decisions and place the blame on the law and its authors.’ ” Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom, 258 (Beacon Press, Revised Ed. 1967).
So, if the Catholic Church requires that a “religious submission of the intellect and will,” even for civil judges acting in a civil capacity, and the Supreme Pontiff has declared contraception immoral, do we have grounds to question the impartiality of justices who self-identify as observant Catholics when their decision effectively imposes Catholic dogma on private citizens?
Yes, we do. Dolan, in his gleeful attempt to seize martyrdom, and Donahue, in his emblematic rage, fail to understand the simple suggestion in FFRF’s ad: that a Catholic might actually think like a Catholic. If that’s what passes for anti-Catholic bigotry these days, no wonder Dolan was praying for more fodder for his lecture.
When Justice Sotomayor dissented in Hobby Lobby, she violated the teachings of her church, and I respect her all the more for that. She held her civil duty (and in all probability her womanhood) above the out-dated and barbaric teachings of the Catholic Church. Clearly, Catholics are capable of serving fairly and impartially in any civil role, as Sotomayor proves in this instance. But the Catholic demand for total submission places the justices in the untenable position of choosing between their duty to country or their religion. FFRF merely points that out.
Bishop Tobin, who’s quote opens this blog, actually provides the solution: “ . . . if your faith somehow interferes with — or your job gets in the way of your faith . . . you need to quit your job and save your soul.” Would that Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, and Thomas had the scruples of Sotomayor . . . or even Bishop Tobin.