Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Religion test alive among Democrats | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Religion test alive among Democrats

Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County. His column appears in every Tuesday in the Summit Daily News.
btrollinger@summitdaily.com |

“…when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern…”

“Of all the countries the pope wants to control this country… they will lay the heavy hand of the Catholic state on you…”

Okay, kids. For all the marbles, which of the above comes from a U.S. Senator, and which from a well-known member of the Ku Klux Klan?

Trick question. Both came from Democrat Senators; the latter from Thomas J. “Cotton” Heflin, speaking about the “Catholic conspiracy to destroy Protestant America,” using presidential candidate Al Smith as their Trojan Horse. The former comes from Dianne Feinstein during her grilling of Amy Barrett, nominee for the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals.

Dr. Barrett, currently a Notre Dame law professor, seems too Catholic not only for Senator Feinstein but for her liberal colleagues like Senator Dick Durban whose line of questioning during her hearing featured such questions as, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Or Senator Al Franken, who accused her of “…speaking before a hate group.” The group in question is the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that provides legal counsel in First Amendment cases involving questions of religious liberty. Memo to Senator Franken: Acting to protect beliefs different than yours may not be hate; willfully smearing people who do so probably is.

Their fear is palpable and easily explained: They think Dr. Barrett would allow her faith to interfere with her jurisprudence in cases of profound interest to Democrats — such as those involving abortion-on-demand, or forcing private organizations to bend the knee to the whims of an omnipotent government. It might have been a question worth exploring; indeed, Dr. Barrett did so in a recent academic paper.

Asking in the way she did, however, Feinstein was shamelessly pandering to forces in the Democrat party, which brook no interference with their statist agenda, and no thinking outside the orthodoxies of the Left. And they ignore statements on the topic in Dr. Barrett’s paper — which was available for the asking. In it she says that were such a conflict to present itself, the thing to do would be to recuse one’s self, as the law provides. Problem solved.

Nor was this sort of behavior a first. A few years back Senator Feinstein, along with Chuck Schumer and Dick Durban opposed William Pryor, a nominee for the 11th Circuit Court. That time Schumer led the charge, repeatedly challenging Pryor’s “deeply held (Catholic) beliefs.” Feinstein misquoted him and Durban piled on.

To understand how odious this is, read article 6.3 of the Constitution. You know, the one that says “no religious test shall ever be required” to hold federal office. Or consider how these Senators would have reacted to questions about how Justice Sotomayor’s on-her-sleeve Hispanic identity would affect her jurisprudence in cases involving “sanctuary cities” or other problematic immigration matters. Could one have measured the wailing?

Welcome to the last acceptable American prejudice: anti-Catholicism. It’s been a hardy perennial in American life from early days. Following the second Great Awakening in the 1820s, anti-clericalism fused itself to xenophobia and we were off on a spree of murders, church and convent-burnings, wild accusations and dark suspicions that lasted at least a century.

Anti-Catholic prejudice enjoyed another peak in the 1870s with the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Anyone under the illusion that all those Wizards, Dragons and Goblins were possessed solely of an animus against black Americans should read their poisonous fulminations and understand that “Popery” and Catholics were, together with Jews, equally appropriate targets. When the Klan reemerged in the 1920s to spread their vitriol throughout the country, anti-Catholicism rose with them. Senator Heflin’s comment is only one, and probably the tamest, example. In a powerful historical irony, the Catholic church, including Notre Dame, was to play a vital role in bringing an end to the second iteration of “The Invisible Empire.”

All of which Senator Feinstein may not know. Or she may know and not care, her concern for victims of discrimination being confined to the usual, and politically useful, suspects. Her colleagues may, similarly, be playing one of the oldest and nastiest cards in American politics without a care for its history or associations. But those watching the sorry spectacle unfold should ask themselves: If these Senators reflexively resort to as sordid a tool as this, what does it say about them?

And about those they think will be moved by their attack?

Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.

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