Monday, September 05, 2005

Roberts and Religion

I wrote in a comment to Catholics and Abortion that in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, his Catholic faith

...may be handled gently by some, but the issue of his Catholicism and his stance on abortion will be the single most important issue in his confirmation hearings.

The Washington Post published an article today that stated,

The degree to which Roberts' religious beliefs may inform his judicial philosophy could be a significant line of questioning....

The issue for both sides is not so much what Roberts believes is right or wrong. Rather, it is the degree to which he believes religious morality may be permitted to influence public policy. Liberals believe in a firewall between church and state, but as Christian conservatives see it, the Supreme Court should allow elected officials to restrict abortions or permit a Ten Commandments monument to be displayed on public property, if those actions have voter support. ...

Democrats who push too hard could deepen a growing impression that they are secular elitists. According to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 29 percent believe the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion, and 44 percent believe secular liberals have too much sway in the party.

I can't think of a single credible case in which a Catholic public official has been accused of permitting the dictates of Rome to override the national interest on public policy issues. Aside from my philosophical interest in the conflicts that bedevil Catholics who try to reconcile Church authority with contrary personal beliefs, I have no concern that any public official would compromise his/her duty because of his/her religious beliefs.

No nominee or candidate should be examined on personal religious convictions. That's a very slippery slope that verges on violating the Constitution, which says " religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" (Article VI, Clause 3). Politicians of both parties, and particularly Democrats, would be well-advised to steer clear of the issue of religion when examining Roberts.

The President has just announced that John Roberts is now his nominee to be Chief Justice, following the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. That's not likely to make much difference in the confirmation process for Roberts. However, the President must now nominate someone else for the Supreme Court, creating a rare circumstance in which two nominations are under consideration at the same time. I'm sure political junkies are ecstatic.

On a final note, the Washington Post article linked above is labeled as "analysis," and it has a decided slant. That's fine, as long as it isn't presented as "news." However, I couldn't help reflecting on the somewhat disparaging comment that "Christian conservatives" believe that in matters of public policy "the Supreme Court should allow elected officials" to act in areas of public policy "if those actions have voter support." That line speaks volumes about the anti-democratic strain in leftist thinking, not to mention regrettable ignorance about how our constitutional system of government is supposed to function.


Blogger Saije said...

I wish the President would nominate a devout Muslim to the Court. We'd have a lot of fun with religious views influencing political actions then wouldn't we?

12:11 PM, September 05, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Under the Constitution, Saije, whether Roberts is an atheist, a Muslim, a Christian or a Wiccan can have no relevance. It is not as if we nominate unknowns for the Supreme Court.

The question of legal competence is very important. The question of a person's religious beliefs can't be, or we will become a crazed society.

12:42 PM, September 05, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Saije, I agree with MOM completely. Religious freedom and the constitutional mandate of "no religious test" are either very nearly absolute or they're meaningless. The same is true of freedom of speech.

Nevertheless, your comment deserves some thoughtful consideration. I have to admit, reluctantly, that I might have a negative gut reaction when I heard about the nominee, but I think, or hope, my head would quickly take over. In today's environment, I guess the initial reaction is unavoidable. But in the end, I would not oppose a Muslim nominee because of his/her religion unless the nominee's stated views and personal history indicated that he/she was the kind of person whose thinking was purely religion-based and extremist. However, I'd feel the same way about a Catholic or Baptist or Jew who fell into that same category.

1:10 PM, September 05, 2005  
Blogger Saije said...

I think you may have missed my point. It is very safe to attack a Christian in this country, to smear by insinuation and innuendo. But how would they go about that with a devout Muslim without causing a great hue and cry among the politically correct multi-culturalists to say nothing of the Muslim communities in the US? We Christians are used to this sort of attack. Other religions, newer to this country, are not.

We are continually told that Islam is a religion of peace, that we can't smear all Muslims with the actions of a few terrorists. Yet at the same time there is much furor about the possibility of Iraq becoming a theocracy because Islam is a source of law in its proposed constitution.

How would our Senators fare in asking pointed questions of a Muslim nominee about women's rights for example? about gay rights? or would they let it go at the risk of seeming like Muslim bashers? if so, then the entire exercise of bringing in someone's personal beliefs would seem to be hypocrisy. Which is why I think it would be interesting to see what the Senate would do with such a nominee.

2:58 PM, September 05, 2005  
Blogger timnayar said...

On the same grounds... no judge should use their religious and moral beliefs influenced by that religion as a rationale to make a rule which is going to affect all people... whether they subscribe to that religion or not. Please understand that there is more than one perspective in this country, and it isn't fair or even constitutional to make everyone live by perscribed religious standards. That is the whole rationale that behind the "separation of church and state" that was argued for in the Federalist Papers, which make a great read by the way. Thank you for your time.

8:06 PM, September 06, 2005  
Blogger Saije said...

Please understand that the issue I attempted to raise has nothing to do with the diversity of perspectives, although I appreciate your instruction in this area. I had not been previously aware that there were different points of view in this country. When did that happen?

I was simply making the point that the religious beliefs of any nominee could be dealt with one question: "Will ANY of your beliefs improperly influence your rulings?" In these hearings, however, the questions will not likely stop there because the senators who intend to exploit the nominee's Catholicism are attempting to do so for political gain. And there will be no hue and cry from the media because the nominee is a Christian. There would be far less willingness to attack a non-Christian nominee in this fashion because of the political fallout.

This is an academic discussion in any event because Judge Roberts is not going to give the Democrats the "red meat" they so clearly wish he would by bumbling his answers on these sensitive topics.

11:09 PM, September 06, 2005  
Anonymous howard said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the premise, Tom.

Asking questions about a nominee's religious beliefs, per se, would be out of bounds. Asking questions about specific areas of legal reasoning that one fears may be affected by such religious beliefs would seem to be allowable, though.

It seems interesting, in that light, that the separation of church and state implicitly disallows government from trying too hard to actually separate church and state.

2:32 AM, September 07, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Howard, it is indeed a very fine line between questioning legal opinions and judicial philosophy as opposed to questioning underlying reasons for those beliefs, especially religion. Senators who would go there need to tread very, very lightly.

As far as church and state are concerned, the First Amendment says simply that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." We've chosen over the years to characterize that as requiring a complete separation of church and state. There are those, mostly on the left, who claim that this requires an impenetrable wall between anything having to do with government and anything having to do with religion. Conversely, there are those, mostly on the right, who claim that no real separation was intended, based on what they see as common-sense definitions of "respecting" and "establishment." In my opinion, the most reasonable position is somewhere about halfway between those two extremes. A decent understanding of the history of those times and the thinking of the framers indicates that they would almost all have opposed the establishment of a state religion, just as they almost all would have opposed the idea that the state must take absolutely no notice of religion and widely prohibit its expression.

Saije, you make an excellent point in regard to attitudes among those in the politically correct community. A Muslim nominee would be defended by many on the left who harbor an abiding hostility toward Christianity. That's a particularly pernicious bias.

5:08 AM, September 07, 2005  
Blogger Charlie said...

The liberal left has a double standard. They wish to impose their morality on the majority. They wish to pretend that conservatives are seeking to impose morality while their side is somehow "neutral." Odd that they can be so dishonest about it. The fact is Democrats and the liberal elite ARE pushing THEIR morality, which not surprisingly is opposed to the morality of the Roman Catholic Church and conservative Evangelical Protestants. The U.S. Constitution does not endorse a secular society or atheism. What it does endorse is religious pluralism and that there should be no state church or denomination supported by taxes. Let's not forget that freedom of speech and the freedom of religion are in the Bill of Rights.

Making religion solely private and out of the public arena is tantamount to making materialistic atheism the state religion. Do we really want to go the way of materialistic atheism from a capitalistic perspective? Would not that make us no better than materialistic and atheistic communists?

Furthermore, why is it ok for liberals to push their favorites but Christians can't push theirs? The last time I checked we are ruled by democratic priniciples. If Christians can get their candidates elected and reform the excesses of the ungodly elite, so be it. We are in a cultural war, after all. I for one intend to go down fighting.

While Bush has been a less than perfect president, he is a symbol of Christian power since we helped elect him. Let the liberal extremists beware. We can do it again and again. The Christian backlash is here to stay.

10:30 AM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Charlie, I think you're right about Democrats pushing their own set of morals. I suspect most really don't even understand that. The extremists on both sides are wearing blinders.

9:23 AM, September 18, 2005  

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