Justice Antonin Scalia was one of the most brilliant, influential, and fascinating Supreme Court justices in recent history. A faithful Catholic, he was the father of nine children, one of whom is now serving as a priest in the Arlington diocese. Not only was Scalia Catholic, but he was willing to express and defend his faith in public with a forthrightness that often took people off guard.
In one famous interview with New York Magazine, the conversation veered towards Scalia’s religious beliefs. At one point, as Scalia emphasized that he really did believe everything that the Church teaches, he leaned in conspiratorially, and whispered, “I even believe in the devil.” When the interviewer responded with incredulity, Scalia continued:
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird…Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the devil! Most of mankind has believed in the devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the devil.
The same detached elitism that caused that interviewer to look at Scalia as if he had two heads, is now causing liberals to look at Scalia’s one-time clerk and judicial disciple, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, with the same offended perplexity. A perplexity that, in many cases, is morphing into undisguised rage: rage that someone with her beliefs (like Scalia, she is a believing Catholic) should stand in line for high public office.
Who is Judge Barrett?
By all accounts, Barret is a remarkable woman. Even colleagues who disagree vehemently with her worldview have testified that she is brilliant, compassionate, and level-headed. When Barrett was seeking to clerk for Justice Scalia, one of her professors wrote a single-sentence recommendation to Scalia: “Amy Coney is the best student I ever had.”
Barrett and her husband have seven children, two of them adopted from Haiti. Their youngest has Down syndrome. Her husband is also an accomplished lawyer, and yet the couple seem somehow to have balanced their impossibly heavy responsibilities, and forged a healthy and functioning family. Who could be anything but touched by the sight of Barret’s many, diverse, and wonderfully behaved children on the dais behind President Trump in the Rose Garden, after he officially nominated her for the Supreme Court?
Many on the left, it is fair to say, were not touched. In one of the more disgusting comments (and there are many to pick from), a writer for the Washington Post noted that Barrett apparently found out that her youngest child was diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero, but chose to continue the pregnancy. Ruth Marcus lamented, “She would, it appears, deny others the freedom to make a different decision, as two-thirds say they would.” Marcus then linked to an even more disgusting Washington Post op-ed titled, “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome,” in which the author writes that if her own two children had been diagnosed with Downs, “I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive. I would have grieved the loss and moved on.”
Attacks on Barrett’s Catholic Faith
While some unscrupulous critics have fixated on Barrett’s unusual family, most have turned their attention to her faith. Article after article has attempted to portray her as some sort of religious fanatic. The “evidence” ushered forth in support of this claim in every case amounts to nothing more than evidence that Barrett is…well…Catholic. Not Joe Biden Catholic, but Catholic Catholic. As in, she actually believes and practices consistently what the Catholic Church teaches.
Much of this sort of commentary has focused on her membership in a group called People of Praise – an ecumenical (but mostly Catholic) charismatic group that supports traditional Christian teachings on issues like marriage, family, and sexuality. Like that New York Magazine interviewer, the authors of these “exposés” seem astonished that anyone of Barrett’s stature should actually believe in God, pray, and engage in other normative religious practices, like practicing spiritual and moral accountability with other Christians.
(Among many absurd claims making the rounds, is that People of Praise believes women should be slavishly subservient to their husbands. This laughable claim was skewered in a recent article by the Christian satirical website The Babylon Bee, which wrote in its headline, “ACB [i.e. Amy Coney Barrett] Racing To Get Dinner Ready For Husband So He’ll Let Her Out To Overturn Roe V. Wade.”)
When Barrett was nominated to the federal appeals court several years ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein grilled her about her Catholic faith. At one point Feinstein remarked (in a phrase that has since become deservedly infamous) “the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”
In a recent piece in First Things entitled “When the Dogma Lives Loudly,” Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote, “Disdain for vigorous religious convictions, especially the Catholic kind, is a virus that’s going around.” It’s not that Catholics aren’t welcome in public life, he notes. It’s just that Catholics who actually believe what the Church teaches aren’t welcome in public life.
“Today’s hostility toward those who support Catholic teaching should concern every practicing Catholic—and anyone who values the First Amendment,” the archbishop added.
If attacks on belief are an acceptable standard by which to impugn judicial nominees today, then tomorrow they’ll be used on the rest of us who uphold the teachings of our faith. What’s been playing out in Senate confirmation hearings and public debates over judicial nominees is a harbinger of future attacks on the Church herself and on any Catholic who holds with her enduring moral witness. Over the past decade, we’ve already seen the Catholic Church — and many of her ministries and institutions —targeted specifically for matters of belief.
A False View of Separation of Church and State
The archbishop’s warning is prescient…and urgent. In the face of the growing contempt for religious belief in popular culture, the media, and politics, it is tempting for believers to continue living out their religious faith in a private way, but to keep it under wraps in public. Often, this stems from a desire for self-preservation – to avoid drawing attention to ourselves in a way that will invite attacks, or professional and personal repercussions. But in other cases, Catholics may even convince themselves that keeping their faith private is the right thing to do since, after all, isn’t separation between Church and state a good thing?
But this way of thinking is based upon a grave misconception. Certainly, it would be wrong for a Supreme Court justice (or any other politician) to take orders from any particular ecclesiastical authority (like the pope). In that sense, separation of Church and state is a good thing. But it is wrong to think that separation of Church and state means that we oughtn’t to bring our beliefs to bear in the public square.
In fact, doing so is downright impossible. The result of the very effort is nothing less than self-contradiction. Every person has a worldview – a set of beliefs that they take to be true, and that influence the way they view the world. That includes secular atheists as much as faithful Catholics. If you believe that God doesn’t exist, that this world is nothing more than a cosmic accident, and that we will not be held accountable for our actions in this life, that will “bias” your political views as much as the beliefs of a Christian. The question is not whether one person is more “biased” or not, but rather which worldview is true.
If Catholics believe what the Church teaches, then they believe that their moral worldview is true, and it would be impossible simply to set those beliefs aside, as if they don’t matter. That doesn’t mean that legislation or judicial decisions should take the form of imposing Catholic doctrines, without regard to existing law or personal freedom. A judge’s role, especially, is not to create law, but to interpret existing law. By definition this task places certain limits on how a judge’s personal beliefs enter into his or her decision-making.
Nevertheless, every act of interpretation presupposes an interpretive framework. The judges who imposed Roe v. Wade on the nation somehow interpreted the Constitution as including a “right” to abortion. They did so, only because their moral worldview biased them towards a radical understanding of “freedom” that gives little emphasis to self-restraint and the responsibility to protect weaker members of the human race. A Catholic judge or politician, however, can’t help but look at the same problem through a different interpretive framework, one that takes for granted the truth that every human person is endowed with infinite intrinsic value, and that freedom is best expressed in living up to one’s responsibilities.
The Human Person and Roe v. Wade
In 1986, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) released a document on “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” In it, he wrote that democracy only succeeds “to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person.” He continued:
Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle, for otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent. The democratic structures on which the modern state is based would be quite fragile were its foundation not the centrality of the human person. It is respect for the person that makes democratic participation possible.
The secular atheistic view of the human person is different from the Catholic one. The Catholic understanding of the human person is based upon the opening chapters of Genesis, which states that God created man “in His image and likeness.” The declaration of Independence echoes this view, when it notes that humans are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
A different view of the human person stands at the very heart of many of our most fundamental political divisions. As noted above, this is certainly true of our disagreement over abortion. As Tucker Carlson recently observed, the fury of the left’s response to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the nomination of Barrett, is traceable to one issue: abortion. “The left is worried that Barrett doesn’t love abortion enough,” Carlson said.
They have reason to be worried. In her speech in the Rose Gardens, accepting President Trump’s decision to nominate her to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Barrett referenced her clerkship with Scalia, adding, “His judicial philosophy is mine too.”
If true, this would be the best possible news for pro-life and pro-family conservatives. In his 1992 dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Scalia openly skewered Roe v. Wade, exposing it for the judicial fraud that it is:
The emptiness of the “reasoned judgment” that produced Roe is displayed in plain view by the fact that, after more than 19 years of effort by some of the brightest (and most determined) legal minds in the country, after more than 10 cases upholding abortion rights in this Court, and after dozens upon dozens of amicus briefs submitted in this and other cases, the best the Court can do to explain how it is that the word “liberty” must be thought to include the right to destroy human fetuses is to rattle off a collection of adjectives that simply decorate a value judgment and conceal a political choice…
Reason finds no refuge in this jurisprudence of confusion.
Restoring the Soul of America
Those on the left want Barrett to agree to recuse herself from all cases involving abortion. They argue that she should do so because she is “biased” because of her faith. In reality, the atheistic secularists who worship a cancerous conception of personal “liberty” to the point of crushing the liberty of defenseless human beings in their mother’s wombs, are the ones who are hopelessly biased. Contrary to Sen. Feinstein’s fears, the Catholic view of the human person is not a liability to the “impartiality” of a judge. It is supremely beneficial.
Barrett herself seems to understand this. In a speech to the graduating class of Notre Dame’s law school in 2006, she expressed her hope,
that you will always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and… that end is building the kingdom of God. You know the same law, are charged with maintaining the same ethical standards, and will be entering the same kinds of legal jobs as your peers across the country. But if you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love, and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.
We can only hope and pray that, if she is confirmed, Barrett will live up to these words, and that she will prove to be a faithful disciple of her judicial hero – Justice Scalia. Please God, Barrett may prove to be the final piece of the puzzle needed to bring down the regime of death instituted in our country by Roe v. Wade.
That will only be the beginning of our work in ending abortion in our country. But it is a necessary first step. And it would make the United States once again a light for the nations – an example of a country that once made the mistake of accepting the great lie of abortion, but that had the humility to repent and reverse course.