Are the openly religious barred from the bench?
At least Bill Pryor has experience with religious questions during confirmations. Of course, the Roman Catholic rite of confirmation is pretty different from the U.S. Congress's judicial confirmation hearings.

Last week, a group called the Committee for Justice published ads in Maine and Rhode Island newspapers saying, "some in the U.S. Senate are attacking Bill Pryor for having 'deeply held' Catholic beliefs to prevent him from becoming a federal judge." The ads showed a courthouse door with a sign reading "Catholics Need Not Apply."

The tone of those ads carried into the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday as Republicans and Democrats faced off over whether Democrats were applying "religious tests" for a public office—something expressly prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

"The left is trying to enforce an antireligious litmus test," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said during yesterday's panel meeting. "It appears that nominees who openly adhere to Catholic and Baptist doctrines, as a matter of personal faith, are unqualified for the federal bench in the eyes of the liberal Washington interest groups. Period. … The litmus test, whether you call it an abortion litmus test or a religious litmus test, is being applied with full force against Pryor because of his faith and the personal views consistent with it."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Pryor's main sponsor, said the nominee's views on abortion are fully consistent—in fact, mandated—by the Roman Catholic Church, and that barring judges with those views essentially bars orthodox Catholics. "Let me tell you, the doctrine that abortion is not justified for rape and incest is Catholic doctrine," Sessions said. "It's the position of the Pope, and it's the position of the Catholic Church. Are we saying that if you believe in that principle, you can't be a federal judge?"

Democrats howled in protest.

"As a person who was raised Catholic and is a practicing Catholic, I deeply resent this new line of attack from the right wing that anyone who opposes William Pryor is guilty of discrimination against him because he is a Catholic," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) "Many Catholics who oppose abortion personally do not believe the laws of the land should prohibit abortion for all others in extreme cases involving rape, incest, and the life and health of the mother."

Perhaps so, but in doing so they contradict the doctrines of their faith—which is exactly the case Pryor's supporters are making. Anyone who consistently holds to Catholic doctrine is effectively banned by Democrats from holding judicial office.

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One of Pryor's problems, according to Durbin, is that Pryor doesn't consistently hold to Catholic doctrine. "The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty. Pryor is in favor of it," Durbin said. "I'm not going to ask Senator Sessions to make a judgment as a Methodist whether that makes him a good Catholic or not."

Durbin's non-question still demands an answer. In fact, while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for the abolition of the death penalty in all cases, the Vatican has not.

"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor," says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "The cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'" By contrast, the Catechism's opposition to abortion is comprehensive, direct, and without exception. At its simplest, Catholic doctrine does like this: You can get excommunicated for supporting abortion, but not for supporting the death penalty.

Doesn't Durbin know this? If not, what kind of Catholic lawmaker is he? If so, his statement is very disingenuous.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), said the Committee for Justice's ads and the accusation that Democrats were imposing a religious test are "the most serious I've seen in 29 years in the United States Senate. It is despicable. It is contemptible. It goes back to a darker time."

Yet in the media coverage Weblog has seen, no Democrats are quoted answering the question at hand: Is anyone who opposes abortion based on religious belief automatically unqualified for office?

At the end of the day, the committee voted 10-9 to send Pryor's nomination to the Senate floor. But the Democrats are set on defeating it outright—or preventing a floor vote via a filibuster.

More articles

Sex abuse report released:

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Homosexual rift in the Anglican Church:

Sexual ethics:

  • Swedish gays run 'gay kid' ads | A campaign by a Swedish gay group to promote awareness that non-heterosexual orientation can start from an early age caused a backlash on Wednesday from a child protection group that said the sexual depiction of children could encourage pedophiles (Reuters)

  • Austin minister targeted by anti-gay campaign | The lawyer and complaining witness, Paul Rolf Jensen, appear to have turned a campaign against homosexuality into a full-time job (The Austin Chronicle)

Baylor University:

  • Baylor notebook (pt 1, pt 2) | This fundamentalist controversy is phony (Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News)

  • A few clarifications | The president of the Baylor Alumni Association responds to Dreher (Dallas Morning News)

  • Baylor president faces up to critics | It was a little testy at first, but Friday's face-off between Baylor University's controversial president and his critics evolved into something more polite than rancorous (The Dallas Morning News\)

  • Re-Christianizing higher education is important | Re-Christianizing a significant portion of higher education may be just about the most subversive activity going on anywhere, and near the top in importance (William Murchison, The Dallas Morning News\)

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  • Let D.C. try vouchers | I believe that education is a local issue and that if the mayor wants this program, it should be given the chance to work. (Dianne Feinstein, The Washington Post)

  • Anti-school choice lacks standing | We need to worry less about where our children are being educated and more about whether they are being educated (Clint Bolick, The Washington Times)

  • Teaching creationism muddies the waters of science education | When a school district teaches a pseudo-scientific theory espoused by a religious community as scientific fact, it crosses a line (Art Coulson, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.)

  • Teaching religion: the final frontier? | Some colleges, like Muhlenberg, using 'Star Trek' as an aid (The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa.)

  • Religion dept. FSP location frustrates | Students who have attended the Foreign Study Program said that the courses they took at New College Divinity School came up short intellectually—in large part because of the institution's theological focus (The Dartmouth Online)

Scripture at the Grand Canyon:

Church and state:

  • Unholy row erupts over 'war' Nativity | A life-sized Nativity scene, which its creator has compared to an image of war-torn Baghdad, is to become a centerpiece of the Capital's festive celebrations (Evening News, Edinburgh, Scotland)

  • Pledge spurs family feud in High Court | A family feud has broken out in the Supreme Court between California parents who disagree about whether their daughter — and other children — should start each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance (Associated Press)

  • ACLU demands removal of Ten Commandments from state plaza | Arizona officials say matter is under review; religious-rights group says monument doesn't violate church-state separation (Associated Press)

  • A higher principle | Children's backpacks shouldn't be weighed down with religious outreach material, good news or not (The Baltimore Sun)

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Pat Robertson:

  • He's no Goldfinger | Liberia's troubles are hurting Pat Robertson's gold prospects (Fortune)

  • Earlier: Pat Robertson's quest for eternal life | He's making bets to ensure that his evangelical empire outlasts him. His portfolio so far: a gold mine in Liberia, a mothballed oil refinery, and $78 million in losses (Fortune, May 28, 2002)

  • Republicans trying to find balance with outspoken televangelist | With evangelical Christians a key part of the Republican Party's base, Pat Robertson's strong stands raise questions of whether he is helping or hurting Republicans entering a presidential election cycle, or if he is merely a colorful fringe figure who no longer matters much politically (Knight Ridder)

  • The 'prayer offensive' | One would think a man who has just survived prostate cancer, as the Reverend Robertson has, would think twice about saying a fellow cancer survivor, Justice Ginsburg, should hang up her robe (Editorial, The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Mass.)

  • Also: 'Prayer offensive'? Yes, indeed | The heavens must be convulsing in laughter at religious broadcaster Pat Robertson's "Operation Supreme Court Freedom" and his "prayer offensive" entreating God to remove three justices from the highest court in the United States (Linda Campbell, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)




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