Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

September 17, 2017

Religious beliefs not a test for public office

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki
Article VI of the United States Constitution mandates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.” Despite this prohibition on making one’s religious beliefs a basis for appointment to governmental office in the United States, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois either is not aware or chose to ignore this basic principle of the United States Constitution in his questioning of Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame Law School, in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Professor Barrett’s nomination to serve as a federal judge on the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago. In his line of questioning on Sept. 6, 2017, Durbin asked Barrett, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” This question does not address any particular legal or moral issue, but focuses squarely on her religion. Whether Barrett is an orthodox Catholic or an unorthodox Catholic or any kind of Catholic is totally irrelevant to a person’s qualifications to serve as a federal judge and in my opinion it was unethical and unconstitutional for Durbin to make her religious beliefs a test for public office.
Series:Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love
Duration:5 mins 19 secs

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Article VI of the United States Constitution mandates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.” Despite this prohibition on making one’s religious beliefs a basis for appointment to governmental office in the United States, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois either is not aware or chose to ignore this basic principle of the United States Constitution in his questioning of Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame Law School, in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Professor Barrett’s nomination to serve as a federal judge on the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago. In his line of questioning on Sept. 6, 2017, Durbin asked Barrett, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” This question does not address any particular legal or moral issue, but focuses squarely on her religion. Whether Barrett is an orthodox Catholic or an unorthodox Catholic or any kind of Catholic is totally irrelevant to a person’s qualifications to serve as a federal judge and in my opinion it was unethical and unconstitutional for Durbin to make her religious beliefs a test for public office.

Sen. Diane Feinstein of California also found Barrett’s Catholic faith objectionable, telling Barrett during the hearing, “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country.” The “big issues,” of course, about which Feinstein and Durbin disagree with “orthodox” Catholic “dogma” are abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

The Founders of our country were very concerned that religious beliefs not be used as a basis for determining qualification to serve in public office in the new nation precisely because many of them had fled from religious persecution in the old country. Yet here we are in the 21st century with politicians showing no qualms about asking a candidate for a federal judgeship about her religious beliefs in a hearing to determine her suitability to receive Senate confirmation for public office.

In contrast to this disturbing line of questioning from these United States Senators, it was encouraging to see a guest column in the Sept. 1, 2017 issue of The Wall Street Journal entitled, How Catholics Can Welcome LGBT Believers, written by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican. Cardinal Sarah accurately summarizes church teaching about homosexuality, saying, “In her teaching about homosexuality, the church guides her followers by distinguishing their identities from their attractions and actions. First there are the people themselves, who are always good because they are children of God. Then there are same-sex attractions, which are not sinful if not willed or acted upon but are nevertheless at odds with human nature. And finally there are same-sex relations, which are gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them. People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the church about this complex and difficult topic.” Noting that to “love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in the truth,” Cardinal Sarah proposes that the best way to welcome LGBT believers is to “heed the voices of Christians who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis has also spoken recently concerning the importance of speaking the truth about marriage. In a book-length interview with French journalist Dominique Wolton released on Sept. 6, entitled Pope Francis: Politics and Society: Conversations with Dominique Wolton, Pope Francis said, “What can we think of marriage between people of the same sex? ‘Matrimony’ is a historical word. Always, in humanity, and not just in the church, it was a man and a woman. … It’s not possible to change it. It is part of nature. That’s how it is. Let us call it, then, ‘civil unions.’ Let us not play with truths.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” He also said, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

May God give us this grace. Amen.

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