The SCOTUS Front in the War on Faith

Bruce Thornton, What we are witnessing is the toxic fallout of nearly two centuries of secularization.

The Senate confirmation hearings on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court are an opportunity for progressives to indulge their irrational bigotry against faith, as well as try to block the appointment of a constitutionalist justice to the court. They are right to be in panic mode, for if Barrett is confirmed, the originalists will have a 6-3 advantage, meaning conservatives can afford John Roberts completely morphing into Anthony Kennedy.

Politics, of course, lies behind the Democrats’ attempts to obstruct Barrett’s confirmation by any means possible, and potentially damage Donald Trump’s chances of reelection. The hearings give them an opportunity to bash Trump and recycle the patent lies­­––the President’s refusal to condemn the marginal number of white supremacists, and other DNC duplicitous talking-points like his alleged bungling of the coronavirus pandemic. And don’t forget the patently specious claims serially flogged on Monday that nominating Barrett in an election year somehow violates some sacrosanct tradition. The only authority for what presidents and Congressmen do is the Constitution, and its enumerated powers of the executive do not cease until his last day in office.

More broadly, Democrats are worried that Obamacare and, more importantly, Roe v. Wade and other pro-abortion decisions, may be up for review and possibly overturned. Hence the usual preposterous rhetorical tropes like “coat-hangers” and “back-alley” abortions supposedly prevalent in pre-Roe times. In fact, natural toxic abortifacients like pennyroyal were probably more prevalent. But “pennyroyal” lacks the gruesome frisson of “coat-hangers.”

This knee-jerk demagoguery obscures the fact that Roe v. Wade is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever. Even feminist icon the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg thought Roe was a blunder because it banned abortions nationwide, rather than just striking down the Texas law and leaving it up to state legislatures that, in her view, would eventually liberalize abortion laws. Trying to bypass the people’s representatives and force radical social change created the Right to Life movement and the divisive politics of abortion, as well as politicizing the Supreme Court and the appointment process.

All this drama over abortion is really about political power. Having made abortion on demand their ideology’s highest sacrament, progressives must defend it to the death, since it provides powerful leverage for getting some women to vote Democrat. That’s why abortion is the premier litmus test for a nominee to the Supreme Court, and a woman’s “right to control her body” has been elevated over the right of the human body she carries inside her to even exist. The beginning of this self-serving politicizing of the Court, the Robert Bork hearings in 1987, made this obvious when Ted Kennedy said, “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions.”

Of course, the fact that Barrett is a Roman Catholic makes the Dems’ bigotry even worse. Indeed, their ignorance about Catholicism’s theology reminds me of Samuel Johnson’s quip about anti-Catholic prejudice in his day: “There are 10,000 stout fellows in London ready to fight to the death against popery, though they know not whether it be a man or a horse.”

But ideologues never let facts get in the way of creating a crisis and keeping it from going to waste. Because the church proscribes abortion, observant, traditional Catholics––an ever-greater minority of Catholics in the West––are particularly demonized. The targeting of Barrett was obvious during her confirmation hearing for appointment to the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in 2017. California Senator Dianne Feinstein slandered Barrett when she said of her faith,  “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”  Similarly, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono wondered whether Barrett’s “closely held views can be separated from her ability to make objective, fair decisions.” On Monday, Hirono said that Barrett would be a “Catholic judge” if confirmed, a statement that gives force to Senator Josh Hawley’s scolding of the Dems for trying to smuggle an un-Constitutional religious test for office into the hearings.

Both Senators seemingly are unaware, or don’t care, that all sorts of  “closely held views” or “dogma”––such as support for abortion, or belief in anthropogenic, catastrophic climate change––could just as easily be potential impediments to a judge’s objectivity. And it’s insulting to assume that a Catholic cannot perform her duties without letting her religious beliefs trump her professional obligations. Given that a judge’s first obligation is to the Constitution, it’s monumental hypocrisy for politicians whose party explicitly purses the dismantling of the highest law of the land, to which they swear fealty, to complain about ideology warping anyone’s professional conduct. Such hypocrisy is especially noxious given how progressive justices have rifled through the Constitution’s “penumbras” and “emanations” to cook up a phantom “right to privacy,” or an equally insubstantial “diversity” that becomes a “compelling state interest” justifying a violation of a law passed by the people’s representatives.

The first day of hearings featured similarly bigoted comments. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, with bombastic drama, claimed that Barrett’s mere candidacy had frightened his constituents.

“They’re scared, Judge Barrett. . . .They’re scared that the clock will be turned back to a time when women had no right to control their own bodies, and when it was acceptable to discriminate against women in the workplace. They’re scared that at a time when we’re facing the perilous impacts of climate change, bedrock environmental protections are going to be eviscerated, and they’re scared that your confirmation will result in the rolling back of voting rights, workers’ rights, and the rights of the LGBTQ community to equal treatment.”

When that dull cliché “turn back the clock” pops up, you know what you’re hearing is not fact-based or logically coherent. Anyone serious about “climate change” knows that if every policy warmists advocate were put in place, the alleged “perilous impact of climate change” would remain. And the issue of abortion is not about a woman “controlling her body,” it’s about a woman sacrificing her unborn child’s body to her choice. Leahy’s hyperbole is of a piece with the hysterical lies and slanderous charges that the Dems made against Justice Kavanaugh at his hearings. Such behavior is what one expects from a party whose candidate for president considers people of faith, who have principles contrary to the secular elite, are the “dregs of society.”

From a broader perspective, what we are witnessing is the toxic fallout of nearly two centuries of secularization, the insidious extraction of God and faith from the public square. A few years ago I described the thinking behind this progressive idea as

an active dislike of religion that has progressively influenced Western culture ever since the Enlightenment. The spectacular success of science in understanding the natural world nursed a hubristic belief that scientific truths about human social and mental reality could be discovered as well, leading to the same technological advances and improvements that had been created by natural science. The greatest enemy of this progress is religion, which is a relic of our benighted past, an irrational superstition whose dark clouds have been dispersed by the light of science and reason. Religion lives on only because of the backward masses too fearful or stupid to give up this Marxian “opiate” or Freudian “illusion” and face the reality of a godless world. To the Enlightenment secularists, as Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz put it, people of faith are “shamans or witch doctors from savage tribes whom one humors until one can dress them in trousers and send them to school.”

That set of arrogant assumptions saturates the thinking of progressives like those Democrats attacking an accomplished jurist with no evidence in her rulings that she has twisted the law or facts in order to gratify her theological beliefs. Believing they are “brights” who always “follow the science,” they dismiss spiritual reality and favor the very unscientific idea that all reality, including human beings, is material, and hence amenable to technocratic manipulation. Those who believe otherwise are scorned as irrational and superstitious, and so cannot be trusted to act professionally rather than in service to their “loud dogma.”

The great irony is that modernity’s greatest crimes did not come from Jewish or Christian doctrine. It wasn’t traditional Jewish or Christian doctrine, for example, that created “scientific racism” and its practical application, eugenics, which influenced Nazi race-laws and the justifying arguments for the “final solution.” Indeed, one of the Supreme Court’s sorriest moments came with the 1927 decision Buck v. Bell, which legitimized forced sterilization in order to keep lesser breeds from reproducing. The vote was 8-1.

The dissenter was Pierce Butler, a Catholic.

Amy Coney Barrett is eminently qualified for the court, both professionally and personally, and should not be rejected for rank partisan reasons or anti-Catholic bigotry. Indeed, her philosophy of judicial restraint is needed on a court that too often over the years has overstepped its Constitutional remit,  as she made clear in her opening statement on Monday: “The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.”

Such modesty on the Supreme Court is needed to slow down the transformation of our Republic into a technocracy ruled by unelected elites.