<i>Rightwing Religionists Seek to Muzzle Inquiry</i>

Church Politicking Has Turned Religion into Confirmation Issue

Judge Roberts, have you, or have you not, ever been a supporter of the separation of church and state?

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president
Freedom From Religion Foundation

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly on the general populace or the public acts of its office."--John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 campaign assurance


Boosters of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts went on an immediate offense to discourage an examination of his personal Roman Catholic convictions and how they might affect his Supreme Court votes.

"A person's religious faith, and how they live that faith as an individual, has no bearing and no place in the confirmation hearing," piously intoned Joe Cella, president of Fidelis, a Catholic organization that promotes ultraconservative judges and politicians. (What would Fidelis say about an unbelieving nominee?)

Fidelis ignores the fact that it is the Roman Catholic Church that has made itself an issue, by intermeddling in American politics and the voting records of U.S. Catholic politicians.

Can a truly "devout" Roman Catholic Supreme Court justice vote to uphold Roe v. Wade and still be in good standing, be able to take communion, and not be "gravely immoral"? Not according to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican laid down the law against pro-choice Catholic public officials in its 2003 doctrinal note on participation of Catholics in political life.

No less than 183 U.S. Roman Catholic bishops issued an election-year statement that politicians who support legal abortion are "cooperating in evil."

The Vatican unilaterally has warned Catholic public officials worldwide to vote in lockstep against abortion rights, gay unions and euthanasia. Such officials who do not toe the line are "not fit" to receive communion, the Vatican warned last year.

Fundamentalist Protestants as well as conservative Catholics are advancing the novel notion that it would be a "religious test for public office" to even question Roberts about his "deeply held views," as the Catholic League's Bill Donohue put it.

Yes, it would be an abhorrent religious test to bar a Roman Catholic, or a Protestant, or a Jew, or an atheist, from being seated on the court by virtue of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. But how can we not question their "deeply held views"?

Is it imposing a "religious test" to ask a Supreme Court nominee questions about briefs he wrote urging the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, defending the violent obstructionism of Operation Rescue as "free speech," and writing that public school students who don't want to be prayed at by clergymen at their graduation should just stay home?

American citizens have a right to know whether Roberts' devotion to his church doctrine trumps his devotion to secular rights. We need to know whether Roberts' allegiance is to the First Amendment or the First Commandment, to the Bill of Rights or rightwing papal bulls, to the Constitution or the Church, to Roe v. Wade or Humanae Vitae. Many Catholic politicians, from JFK to John Kerry, have gladly volunteered answers to such questions. Why is it taboo to ask the same of Roberts?

Fundamentalists who have suddenly discovered the Constitution's prohibition of a religious test for public office are meanwhile busy organizing their own religious test for Congress, the second "Justice Sunday" simulcast. The Aug. 14 event, to be broadcast via satellite to churches and Christian stations nationwide, is billed outright as a "preemptive strike" to warn Democrats not to question the Supreme Court nominee on abortion and other issues dear to the hearts of theocrats. "The Senate must bury its collective head in the sand when confronted with religious rightwing judicial nominees" is not a clause found anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.

This is sheer religious intimidation of Congress, as is the absurd attempt to paint Democrats (the traditional party of Roman Catholics) as "anti-Catholic bigots" if they dare ask pertinent questions of a Catholic nominee. Catholics, at a quarter of the U.S. population, already make up one-third of the Supreme Court and 29% of Congress, hardly an indication that "anti-Catholic bigotry" is abroad in the land.

The Senate has the right to probe whether Roberts is closer in his views to Catholic brethren Justice Kennedy (who, while ambivalent, has opposed an outright abortion ban), or to Justices Scalia and Thomas, who can't wait to gut the constitutional right to privacy. With abortion rights precariously hanging in the balance of this and future Supreme Court nominations, Roberts' "deeply held view" on abortion obviously is THE pivotal confirmation issue.

Judge Roberts, have you, or have you not, ever been a supporter of the separation of church and state?

It is not reassuring that Christian Coalition president Roberta Combs, perhaps with pun intended, promised that Roberts "would faithfully interpret the Constitution." Not surprisingly, Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, the Christian antiabortion group Roberts defended on behalf of the government, exalted: "We pray that Roberts will be swiftly confirmed." What do they know that we don't? And why should we not know it, too?

As Sen. Leahy put it: "No one is entitled to a free pass to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court."

The rightwing religious lobby is bent on curtailing questioning before the hearings have even begun. This alarming intent by rightwing religionists to continue to muzzle open debate over judicial nominees should not be countenanced.

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