Efforts to block the highly qualified Barrett from the Supreme Court because of her faith betray our nation’s founding ideals.
If you ever need much evidence that the growing “God gap” in American politics fosters an immense amount of ignorance and occasionally outright bigotry, look no farther than the concern — the alarm, even — that Amy Coney Barrett is on President Trump’s short list to replace Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court.
The alarm isn’t about her credentials. She’s checked every box of excellence — law review, appellate-court clerkship, Supreme Court clerkship (with Justice Scalia), elite law-firm experience, law professor at an elite law school, and now experience as a federal judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. She’s a young, brilliant woman at the apex of her profession.
So, beyond her obvious originalist judicial philosophy (shared to varying degrees by every person on Trump’s list of potential nominees), what’s the problem with Judge Barrett. Why do some progressives single her out for particular scorn?
It turns out that she’s a faithful Christian who lives a Christian life very similar to the lives of millions upon millions of her fellow American believers.
No, really, that’s the objection.
Of course there was the infamous moment during Judge Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals when Senator Dianne Feinstein imposed an obvious religious test on her nomination. “When you read your speeches,” Feinstein said, “the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country.”
Feinstein’s statement was crude and direct. Many progressives I know — including influential Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman — blanched at the obvious religious targeting. But there’s a different, more subtle attack on Barrett that is already reemerging. Based on a September 28, 2017, New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein, the insinuation is that there’s something not quite right with Barrett’s faith. She’s part of a “small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise,” and this group — not her church — is the real problem.
Goodstein goes on to cast the group in near cult-like terms, with talk of a “lifelong oath of loyalty,” special religious language like “head” and “handmaid” to describe the leaders of the group, and ominous implications that members are not completely independent — that group leaders “give direction on important decisions, including whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home, and how to raise children.”
Then, to really ratchet up the concern, Goodstein refers not to experts on People of Praise or similar groups, but rather to “legal scholars” to opine on Barrett’s independence:
Legal scholars said that such loyalty oaths could raise legitimate questions about a judicial nominee’s independence and impartiality. The scholars said in interviews that while there certainly was no religious test for office, it would have been relevant for the senators to examine what it means for a judicial nominee to make an oath to a group that could wield significant authority over its members’ lives.
When I read the article last year, I rolled my eyes so hard that I almost injured myself. Aside from the basic facts about People of Praise — it’s a group so nefarious that the late Cardinal Francis George wrote, “In my acquaintance with the People of Praise, I have found men and women dedicated to God and eager to seek and do His divine will. They are shaped by love of Holy Scripture, prayer and community; and the Church’s mission is richer for their presence.” It’s so dastardly that Pope Francis appointed one of its members as auxiliary bishop of Portland. And it’s so insular that it’s founded three schools that have won a total of seven Department of Education Blue Ribbon awards.
But beyond the basic facts about People of Praise, I was amused by the article for a different reason. It betrays fundamental ignorance about the way millions of American Christians live their lives. You see, for many of us (myself included), what happens at church is just the beginning of our efforts to build and sustain Christian community.
At the low end of additional engagement, we form and belong to what Evangelical churches call “small groups” — Bible study on steroids. The members of small groups don’t just study scripture. They form deep friendships and they seek advice for living their lives, including, yes, advice on dating, marriage, careers, and child-rearing.
And that’s the low end of additional spiritual engagement. Moving farther down the walk of faith, Evangelicals (and many Catholics, like Barrett) work with more formal “parachurch” organizations — entities that complement and supplement the work of a local congregation. Often, members of those organizations not only do things like found schools, they also create more formal social networks that allow people to help other members in need, to house members who need places to stay or live (especially when they move to new communities), and to appoint leaders who direct the group and provide biblical counsel to its members.
Moreover — as anyone with even the most cursory exposure to biblical Christianity knows — these groups use biblical language to describe their roles. Words like “covenant” are incredibly common.
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Source: National Review