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After President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, Sweet Briar College's Barbara Perry told The New York Times, "This would add a whole new meaning to the Catholic rite of confirmation." She was joking about the likelihood of a Catholic majority on the Court.

That majority would be notable, considering Samuel Alito would be only the 12th Catholic in the Court's 110-justice history. But "the most remarkable thing about it is that it's unremarkable," Catholic University's Dennis Coyle told The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. "That says something about how mainstream Catholicism has become in intellectual and legal circles."

"The religion factor no longer matters," Perry says. But for some it still does. Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, complained that a Catholic majority would "underrepresent other religions, not to mention nonbelievers."

Such comments are thankfully rare. Most pundits and politicians are wary of the Constitution's ban on a "religious test for office."

It's not as if the Catholic majority "is going to put any papal encyclicals into American law," says an editorial in the Sharon (Mass.) Advocate. "But if such fears exist, the Roman Catholic Church is doing nothing to calm them." Bishops who threaten to withhold Communion from pro-choice lawmakers are only instituting their own "religious test" for office, the paper said.

If the bishops do not similarly warn Catholic judges, Amy Sullivan wrote for Beliefnet, they "reveal their policy for dealing with Catholic public officials for what it is—a political, partisan tactic."

But if a judge "were to act in a way that he would reach decisions on the basis of Catholic teaching, that in itself would be a violation of Catholic ...

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In the Magazine

January 2006

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