Recent attacks on priests and places of worship show the increased antagonism toward religion
The ‘religious test’
Many people say that anti-Catholicism passed out of American politics when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, won the presidency in 1960 despite the religious bias that had been brought against him in the campaign. Well, if anti-Catholicism as a political issue collapsed 58 years ago, it has recovered quite well. Note recent events in the U.S. Senate.
Without objection, the Senate recently adopted a resolution presented by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), who is not himself a Catholic, stating that religion, and precisely Catholicism, cannot, and must not, be used as a test in considering fitness for public office. The resolution quoted the U.S. Constitution, which says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Remember: The founders of the republic believed that any citizen can hold, support and act upon any political opinion, even if it was first proposed by Jesus, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or by the fundamentalist preacher in a pulpit.
The Sasse resolution also stated that “membership in the Knights of Columbus” can never be regarded as a disqualification for any nominee to federal office. But why were the Knights specifically mentioned?
Because President Donald Trump had nominated an attorney, Brian C. Buescher, a lawyer and former prosecutor in Omaha to be a federal district judge in Nebraska. Under the Constitution, presidents propose candidates for the federal judiciary, but the Senate must decide whether or not the nominee can serve.
As is routine, the Judiciary Committee — mainly composed of senators who are lawyers themselves, former prosecutors, former judges and so on — summoned Buescher. During the interview, two committee members — U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-California) and Mazie Hironio (D-Hawaii) — challenged Buescher because he is a Knight of Columbus. So what? Their problem was not that the Knights serve the needy or bring families together in wholesome settings, but that the Knights long have opposed legal abortion on religious grounds, expressly standing with the Catholic Church on this matter.
It amazed me. The Constitution is clear about no religious test for public office. Both Harris and Hironio are lawyers. They studied the Constitution in respected law schools and have argued in courts for the implementation of the Constitution. They repeatedly and formally have sworn to uphold the Constitution.
Yet, they questioned Buescher’s worthiness for office because he is a member of an organization that openly allies itself with Catholic Church teaching. If they were not applying a religious test, what is a religious test?
This troubled me. It was not the first time a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has fretted about a nominee’s fitness to be a judge because of the nominee’s Catholicism. Some months ago, another nominee for a federal judgeship was insulted in the same committee because she was presumed to be too faithful to her Catholic Church.
It disgusts me. Throughout history, and today, Catholic Americans have paid taxes, died for the country in war, obeyed the laws and contributed to the betterment of this society in a zillion ways, often organized in explicit Catholic action, such as those long put forward by the Knights of Columbus.
Apparently this is fine, but if a citizen opposes abortion on demand, precisely because he or she accepts the reasoning of the Catholic Church, in effect this person loses the rights of citizenship.
It is so illogical, but the threat nevertheless is real.
Msgr. Owen Campion is OSV’s chaplain.