Arizona’s Catholic Community Sees Religious Bigotry in Criticisms of Potential Supreme Court Justice

Following the Honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death less than one week ago, Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump have moved to nominate a new Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In less than four years, President Trump has filled two spots on the nation’s highest court. With Ginsburg’s passing, Trump will have the historically rare opportunity to appoint a third within his first term.

Emerging as an early front-runner, circuit judge Amy Coney Barrett is in contention to be appointed to the Court. A Roman Catholic, originalist jurist, and mother of seven, Barrett has been placed in the crosshairs of Senate Democrats and liberal activists.

Judge Barbara Logoa, Catholic and Cuban, is also being considered.

Historical discrimination

Worries over Catholic judges have precedent in the U.S. Senate and American history. In 2017, when Barrett was undergoing her confirmation process for her circuit judge position, Senator Dianne Feinstein said:

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

Today, many Democrats have cited the judge’s faith as a worrisome factor once again. Filmmaker Arlen Parsa said, in a now-deleted tweet:

“Trump’s likely RBG replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, is a Catholic extremist with 7 children who does not believe employers should be required to provide healthcare coverage for birth control. She wants the rest of American women to be stuck with her extreme lifestyle.”

From the immigration of Irish Catholics to the United States, to the popular promulgation of anti-Catholic rhetoric during President John Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, discrimination against Catholics isn’t new.

Democrats and those opposed to Barrett’s appointment claim that they are not furthering bigotry. Senator Dick Durbin, who also questioned the judge in 2017, interrogated her by asking if she was an “orthodox Catholic.” 

Claims of dual allegiance

Their concern is that Catholic judges may have more of an allegiance to Rome, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, than to the United States. This belief has crystallized in their worry that Barrett’s faith-derived view of abortion as a moral sin informs her views on the constitutionality of the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Refinery29 published an opinion piece by Wandy Ortiz, claiming that “Barrett’s positions on abortion stem from her personal background and strong religious beliefs.” This statement came without evidence, and without any concern for her judicial philosophy.

Historically these accusations of “dual allegiance” have been used to further bigoted sentiment against Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and other religious minorities.

Historically these accusations of “dual allegiance” have been used to further bigoted sentiment against Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and other religious minorities.

Steven Waldman, a reporter at the Atlantic, says that “dual-allegiance charges go much further than offering a polite disagreement on policy. They imply not only that a group is un-American, but that its adherents have no agency.”

S.E. Cupp, a commentator at CNN, says that these questions directed towards Barrett “were another way of asking, “Just how Catholic are you, ma’am?””

Judicial philosophy

A professed originalist, Barrett served as a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Famous for his rhetorical style and originalist legalism, her experience under his wing indelibly shaped her views about how one should interpret the Constitution.

Breaking from Chief Justice John Robert’s extreme emphasis on precedent and past jurisprudence, Barrett has argued that proper interpretation of the Constitution is more important than blind adherence to precedent.

In an essay she wrote in 2016, Barrett argued that “The unbroken practice in the United States is to treat interpretations of the Constitution, in contrast to the Constitution itself, as provisional and subject to change.”

It is from this legacy, as well as her opinions in numerous cases, that worries regarding her judicial future lie. Jay Wexler — “a Boston University law professor and self-described liberal atheist who clerked for Ginsburg alongside Barrett” — said that in his experience with Barrett, she was very smart and “not at all ideological.”

Arizona State’s Catholic response

Father Daniel Cruz, Parochial Vicar at the ASU Catholic Newman Center in Tempe, Arizona, did not mince words when asked for comment: “Without a doubt she is facing discrimination because she is a Catholic woman.”

Unequivocally, Cruz said, “anti-Catholic and anti-Christian sentiments are increasing rapidly.”

Cruz wasn’t surprised, however, about the rise in these sentiments. “Our beginnings as the Church grew through persecution. In every age since then, anti-Catholic and anti-Christian sentiments resurface in societies.”

Speaking to fear felt by Catholic students at Arizona State, he said that “an overwhelming majority are fearful of professing the faith in public and would be inclined to avoid any defense of the faith.”

He went further: “My estimation is that many Catholic students struggle to root themselves in a faith community to learn to pray together, worship together and not be afraid to live a holy life. It is counter-cultural and this is the precise reason we have student missionaries who go out to the corners of the campus and be brothers and sisters in Christ to others.”

As President Trump prepares to announce his nominee to the Supreme Court, Catholics and other Christians across the nation fear an outpouring of religious bigotry.

Published by Joe Pitts

Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of The Western Tribune, Joe is a first-generation Arizonan attending Arizona State University's Barrett, the Honors College.

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