FFRF warns Barrett would complete Christian Nationalist takeover of Supreme Court

Amy Barnett

The Freedom From Religion Foundation says that President Trump’s new presumed Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, if confirmed, would be “a disaster for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church” and would complete the Christian Nationalist takeover of the high court for more than a generation.

Both The New York Times and CNN have reported that Barrett is Trump's choice, even though Trump is not scheduled to make the announcement until Saturday afternoon. Barrett, by far the most ultra-conservative of the nominees on his short list, is the one most admired by the Religious Right.

FFRF is calling on its nationwide membership of over 32,000 secular Americans to ask their senators to strongly oppose this nominee and to delay confirmation hearings until the next session of Congress. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is in charge of the confirmation, himself said in 2016: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.”

Barrett’s biography and writings reveal a startling, life-long allegiance to religion over the law. The 48-year-old Roman Catholic attended a Catholic high school and a Presbyterian-affiliated college and then graduated from Notre Dame Law School, where she taught for 15 years. She clerked for archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and significantly, like the late justice, is considered an “originalist” or “textualist” who insists on applying what is claimed to be the “original intent” of the framers. She and her parents have belonged to a fringe conservative Christian group, People of Praise, which teaches that husbands are the head of households. Barrett’s nomination hearing for a judgeship on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where she has served for less than three years, documented her many controversial and disturbing positions on religion vis-a-vis the law.

Barrett would be the sixth Catholic on the nine-member court. (This count does not include Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but describes himself as Episcopolian.) Throughout her career and personal life, Barrett has made it clear that everything, including the law, is a means to promoting her personal religion and the “Kingdom of God.”

“If Barrett is confirmed, she will unquestionably eviscerate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” warn FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Many of our other hard-won freedoms would also likely be gutted.”

Crucially, Barrett would replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a brilliant legal mind and defender of vital constitutional and secular values, including separation of state and church, women’s equality, reproductive justice, voting rights, LGBTQ equality and environmental justice. In 2015, Barrett publicly pledged to support Catholic teachings against death with dignity legislation, against contraception and abortion, against LGBTQ rights and marriage equality and even against divorce.

Alarmingly, Barrett has been critical of the principle of stare decisis or precedent, writing that a justice’s duty is to “enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.” This signals she would have no compunctions overturning Roe v. Wade or the more than 70 years of clear Supreme Court precedent protecting the rights of conscience and keeping religious ritual out of our public schools.

Even more alarmingly, Barrett wants to use the law to make a “Kingdom of God.” For Barrett, her “legal career is but a means to an end … and that end is building the Kingdom of God,” according to her 2006 commencement address to Notre Dame Law School. She added: “Keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.”

And yet more alarming, Barrett has made statements indicating that her religion would trump her oath of office. Barrett co-authored an article in 1998 about the conflict of Catholic dogma and the law, which, she wrote, can put “Catholic judges in a bind.” The article was couched in terms of judges recusing themselves from death penalty cases, but she added: “The prohibitions against abortion and euthanasia (properly defined) are absolute; those against war and capital punishment are not.”

Asked about the conflict of his personal religion and the law, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan during his 1957 confirmation hearings gave an excellent answer, the only answer a federal official should give:

Senator, [I took my] oath just as unreservedly as I know you did … And … there isn’t any obligation of our faith superior to that. [In my service on the Court] what shall control me is the oath that I took to support the Constitution and laws of the United States and [I shall] so act upon the cases that come before me for decision that it is that oath and that alone which governs.

Barrett has criticized Brennan’s response, stating: “We do not defend this position as the proper response for a Catholic judge to take with respect to abortion or the death penalty.” When such a conflict arises, Barrett has recommended that judges should “conform their own behavior to the [Catholic] Church’s standard,” rather than upholding their secular oath. When invited to repudiate this statement at her confirmation hearing in 2017, Barrett declined to do so.

A cause for concern is Barrett’s membership in a Charismatic Catholic group. Barrett joined People of Praise, a “Charismatic Christian parachurch organization.” Former members call it “a cult.” The group was founded in South Bend, Ind., where Barrett was a professor. “Members are in spiritual bondage,” an ex-member has said. In 2005, People of Praise’s official magazine described Barrett’s own mother, Linda, as a “handmaid.” The group seems to require loyalty oaths of its members, which could conflict with her oath of office.

“There are serious and deep concerns about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s affiliation with People of Praise and her past comments about the conflict between faith and law,” as FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel told ABC News. “Not only is her connection to this community and her previous writings fair to ask about, but senators have a duty to the Constitution to ask those questions.”

Her short time on the bench has been marked by a series of objectionable votes that predict how calamitous her appointment to the high court would become: Barrett believes that women should not be permitted to obtain an abortion even in cases of severe fetal abnormality. Even if a judge finds that a pregnant minor is mature enough to exercise her right to choose to terminate the pregnancy, Barrett believes that the minors’ parents must be told. Combine that with her view that health care should be stripped from Americans (a position she has not publicly repudiated even in the midst of a pandemic) and it reveals a supremely cruel vision of the law — a total betrayal of Ginsburg’s ethos. People will die and families will go financially and emotionally bankrupt under Barrett’s medieval jurisprudence.

Barrett refused to halt the deportation of an immigrant who faced torture at home, seemingly placing her in the camp of officials who justified throwing children into cages, citing Romans 13. She’s committed to making sure that meritorious Establishment Clause litigants never see the inside of a courtroom by denying standing standing.

During the pandemic, Barrett has ruled that religious services should be exempt from a general ban on large gatherings in Illinois, even though the ban applied to other large gatherings, such as political rallies, and even though the sweeping exemption undermines the entire point of the emergency health order. This dangerous decision put the 7th Circuit at odds with the vast majority of federal courts, which have correctly concluded that religion does not entitle a believer to flout public health laws.

Barrett’s writings, statements and affiliations attest to her conviction that Catholic lawyers are on a religious mission to serve their God and build that deity’s kingdom — clearly conflicting with the oath Supreme Court justices must take to uphold our secular Constitution. Giving Barrett’s misguided judicial outlook, a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court would have far-reaching and ruinous effects on a woman’s right to choose, the right to die with dignity, the death penalty, and the collision of Catholic health care and our secular law.

FFRF is committed to fighting any nominee who is so clearly hostile to American secularism and values.

“This is the legal fight of the century for America. Our nation’s future, our Constitution and our civil rights hang in the balance,” says Gaylor. “If we don’t stop Barrett, and maybe even if we do, it’s time for serious structural reforms to Congress and our courts.”

Image by Rachel Malehorn under CC BY 3.0.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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