Religious Liberty, Relative Theocratic Threat, and Keeping the Supreme Court Divided

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

—Article VI, Clause 3, The United States Constitution

Much of The Guardian article “‘It instilled such problems’: ex-member of Amy Coney Barrett’s faith group speaks out” is a distraction. But one bit at the end gets at an issue that should be raised in the hearing now occurring before the American public, namely the liberal value of church-state separation. The United States is a liberal democratic republic. Right wingers and progressives have both confused the people about the character of liberalism. Liberals aren’t progressives. In many ways, liberals appear as conservatives today. I insist on progressives being honest about the authoritarian and technocratic character of their politics. And I appeal to conservatives to be open about their liberalism.

Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology at Villanova University, points out that groups like People of Praise reject a secular view of separation between church and state. “I don’t think we should put her Catholicism on trial, but the Catholic conservative legal movement is putting liberalism on trial,” he said. “They want to change a certain understanding of the liberal order of individual rights, and that is coming from the religious worldview of Catholic groups.” (See my lengthy piece Secularism, Nationalism, and Nativism for my views on the role of Catholicism in the Western and American history.)

I have been pointing this out for quite some time now. And I do worry about reproductive freedom. I have been accused of anti-Catholic bigotry for it. I won’t apologize for my criticism of Catholicism any more than I will apologize for my criticism of Islam, fascism, or any other “ism.” I have been called an Islamophobe on that score. I remain undeterred. Religion is an ideology, and all ideology are legitimately subjected to criticism and even ridicule. (Just look at the silliness that accompanied the appearance of a fly on the Vice-President’s head. Or white people prostrate on the ground before Black Lives Matter activists or washing the feet of its black members.) 

Amy Coney Barrett served as a 'handmaid' in Christian group People of  Praise - The Washington Post
Supreme Court nominee Amy Comey Barrett

I don’t care what arrangement Barrett has with her husband. She can speak in tongues. She can lay on hands. It’s weird, but whatever. That’s religion. Religion is weird. What I care about is whether Barrett believes in the core liberal values upon which American is founded, and among these is individual freedom from the religious standpoint of other people. Freedom of conscience is fundamental to human rights and dignity. I have said this before: as much as I don’t like to accuse people of being anti-American, the one sure fire way to draw that accusation from me is to insist that separation of church and state is not a founding principle of the republic. There is no interpretation involved here. It is explicit in the body of the Constitution itself and in the First Amendment to that document. 

I am an atheist. But even if I were a Christian, if you attempt to make me live under any religious doctrine that is not an obvious restatement of secular one, I will resist. If you persist, I will rebel. I am very interested to know whether anybody who may take a seat in our judiciary at any level has a clear understanding of religious liberty. We cannot agree to disagree on this one. Freedom is at stake.

All that being said, there is a meme circulating that asks whether conservatives would treat the matter of Barrett’s nomination to the high court differently if she were a Muslim. Presumably, progressives would make all the same arguments conservatives are making in Barrett’s defense if a Muslim woman were nominated to the court. Any questioning of her Muslim faith would be met with accusations of Islamophobe, racism, and xenophobia. I would ask whether Christianity, an idea system rooted in Western culture and shaping its development fundamentally, is commensurable with an idea system rooted in Oriental culture sufficient to suggest such an analogy. I say this as a secularist with a healthy fear of religious systems generally while, at the same time, grasping the truth that history and culture are crucial to understanding the relative threat religious systems, again which are ideological systems, pose to our way of life.

Western civilization is both secular and Christian (secularism is, after all, part of the Christian doctrine). But a world governed by sharia cannot be a secular society. All life is put under doctrine in a society governed by sharia. Nuns choose to don the habit. Under sharia, women do not choose to wear the burqa, hijab, or niqab. Under sharia, there is no religious liberty. Non-Muslims are second class citizens. Muslims themselves tell us that Islam is the total solution, the answer to everything. However regressive some tendencies in Christianity may be, Islam is as ideologically close to fascism as any modern idea system gets. It is, indeed, a system of clerical fascism. 

There are many examples of the superiority of Christianity to Islam. Here is an outstanding one: For all its faults, Christian civilization inherited a world where slavery was normal and abolished it. There never was an indigenous abolitionist movement in Islam. Slavery in the Muslim world was only limited by the force of Christian civilization during the expansion of the European world economy.

Finally, returning to Barrett’s hearings, readers need to understand why Democrats are trying to derail the nomination process. Leading Democrats are trying to mislead the public by substituting the question of court packing with filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Democrats are projecting upon Republicans their own hypocrisy. For them, this is not just about keeping Barrett off the Court because of the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats mean to sink the 2020 election into chaos. The Democratic Party is a key player in a color revolution that involves the tactic lawfare. Democrats are already leveraging the judicial system to subvert the voting process. An evenly divided court makes a deadlock possible on matters that will surely come before the court. If they can’t win outright on election day, and if they can’t get every vote they produce certified, they will tie up the process until the election goes to the House where the House Speaker (and we know who this is) will conduct a special election. A potentially divided court could prove crucial for implementing this strategy.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

3 thoughts on “Religious Liberty, Relative Theocratic Threat, and Keeping the Supreme Court Divided”

  1. I have read several of your posts but, before I leave a lengthy comment, I’d like to know why your archives on the left don’t reflect the sequential posts as I scroll down?

    1. I have to manually update my table of contents and it is a rather difficult process of moving the link to each item up a long chain of titles. I usually wait and do it four or five at a time. I have contacted WordPress about an automatic way of doing this, but their suggestions of solutions have so far not worked for me. It is also possible that I have failed to list some of the essays published because I missed them in creating the table of contents, which is a more recent addition to my blog. I am also migrating essays from an old defunct blog and these get lost in the more than 450 essays so far published. I have planned for a while to have somebody go down the list with me so I can update the table of contents. I am a professor at a public university with a heavy workload in teaching, researcher, and service, as well as a family, and time tends to get away from me.

      I look forward to your comments. Thank you for your interest.

  2. The classic Catholic definition of law is a public order by a legitimate authority for the sake of the common good. The reason the SCOTUS originalists are all devout Catholics is that “legitimate authority” part. The legislator is the legitimate authority, in Constitutional law it refers to the framers, in federal law to Congress. The judiciary is not a legitimate authority for promulgating law, they only apply it to uncertain cases by supposing the mind of the legislator.

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