|By PETER J. RIGA
I never thought Id see the day when a faithful Catholic who, as a
matter of faith and his conscience, rejects abortion as an assault on human
life would be rejected as a federal judge because of that belief. That is
exactly what is happening to William J. Pryor Jr., who was nominated by
President Bush to the Federal Court of Appeals. He made the grave mistake of
telling the judiciary committee that as a Catholic, he rejected abortion as a
species of murder, but that he could and would abide by the law as written. In
fact, he proved this when he was the attorney general of Alabama, where he
enforced the law even when it went contrary to his personal belief.
The question for any judge to be appointed to any bench in this land is
simply: Will he or she follow the law as written, no matter what his or her
private beliefs? If the person answers yes, that is the end of the inquiry. To
go further is to go beyond the law into personal beliefs that no one has a
right to invade, question or dispute. But that is exactly what the Democrats in
Congress are doing.
Such an inquiry was not good enough for Democrats on the committee, who
later initiated a filibuster in the Senate against Pryors nomination.
These Democrats could not find any instance when Pryor refused to apply the law
because of his private beliefs but feared that, being a Catholic, he
might or could veer in deference to his religious faith
in matters of abortion. Abortion has become the litmus test for any Democrat
for approval to any federal court. Of all the federal rights, the most
fundamental in the eyes of Democrats is that of abortion, the right of rights.
Therefore, a Catholic must hold to abortion not simply as a matter of law but
as a matter of belief, and that is not law, but ideology. Indeed, it is a
subtle form of anti-Catholicism.
The answer given by Sens. Edward Kennedy, John Kerry and Patrick Leahy
to this charge is that this cannot be anti-Catholicism because they are
Catholics. Therefore there is no question of religious bias here. The clear
answer to this is that these senators have become known as anti-Catholic
Catholics -- that is, Catholics who have denied their faith by publicly
opposing a defined moral doctrine of the Catholic church, which is exactly what
these senators have done in approving and forwarding all sorts of legislation
on abortion. To the extent that these senators are pro-choice in personal
belief, they have left the Catholic church. They fail the real Catholic test:
sentire cum ecclesia -- think with the church.
This situation with Catholic judicial nominees today is remarkably
similar to what happened to Sir Thomas More, who refused to swear the oath
making Henry VIII head of the church in England. But it was not enough for
Mores accusers that he be silent on the matter, which was sufficient
according to law; they held that he had to believe it in his heart as being
essentially true, which More could not do as a matter of conscience.
That is what the Democrats want of Catholic judicial nominees: belief in
abortion as ideology, no matter that the candidate has shown himself obedient
to the law in all his past history. That will ipso facto eliminate all future
Catholic candidates, at least those Catholics who believe in what the church
Mores enemies could not break him legally, so they determined to
kill him legally by beheading him on perjured evidence. The
Democrats could not break Pryor legally since his record was so good, so they
determine to kill his nomination via a Senate filibuster. In both cases,
fidelity to their faith demanded no less.
Peter J. Riga is an attorney in Houston.
|By C. WELTON GADDY
On Nov. 6, Senate
Democrats for a second time blocked Alabama Attorney General William Pryor
from attaining a seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. An earlier
filibuster was held in July, when the Senate Judiciary Committee’s
discussion of Pryor’s nomination deteriorated into a dramatic demonstration
of the inappropriate intermingling of religion and politics. This meshing of
religion and politics in the rhetoric of the Judiciary Committee cheapens
religion and diminishes the recognized authority of the committee to speak
on matters of constitutionality.
Religion plays a vital role in the life of our nation. Religious values
inform an appropriate patriotism and inspire political action. But a
persons religious identity should stand outside the purview of inquiry
related to a judicial nominees suitability for confirmation. The
Constitution is clear: There shall be no religious test for public service.
The relevance of religion to deliberations of the Judiciary Committee
should be twofold:
One, a concern that every judicial nominee embraces by word and example
the religious liberty clause in the Constitution that protects the rich
religious pluralism that characterizes this nation.
Two, a concern that no candidate for the judiciary embraces an intention
of using that position to establish a particular religion or religious
In other words, the issue is not religion, but the Constitution.
Religion is a matter of concern only as it relates to support for the
Make no mistake about it: There are people in this nation who would use
the structures of government to establish their particular religion as the
official religion of the nation. The Senate Judiciary Committee has an
obligation to serve as a watchdog that sounds a warning when such a philosophy
seeks endorsement within the judiciary.
It is wrong to establish the identity of a persons religion as a
strategy for advancing or defeating that persons nomination for a
judgeship. However, it is permissible, even obligatory, to inquire about how a
persons religion impacts that persons decisions about upholding the
Constitution and evaluating legislation. When a candidate for a federal bench
has said, as did William Pryor, Our political system seems to have lost
God and declares that the political system must remain rooted in a
Judeo-Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of
man, there is plenty for this committee to question.
The United States is the most religiously pluralistic nation on earth.
For the sake of the stability of this nation, the vitality of religion in this
nation, and the integrity of the Constitution, we have to get this matter
right. Yes, religion is important. Discussions of religion are not out of place
in the judiciary committee or any public office. But evaluations of candidates
for public office on the basis of religion are wrong, and there should be no
question that considerations of candidates who would alter the political
landscape of America by using the judiciary to turn sectarian values into
public laws should end in rejection.
The crucial line of questioning should revolve not around the issue of
the candidates personal religion but of the candidates support for
this nations vision of the role of religion. If the door to the judiciary
must have a sign posted on it, let the sign read, Those who would pursue
the development of a nation opposed to religion or committed to a theocracy
rather than a democracy need not apply.
In 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy addressed the specific
matter of Catholicism with surgical precision and political wisdom, stating
that the issue was not what kind of church he believed in but what kind of
America he believed in. Kennedy left no doubt about that belief: I
believe in an America where the separation of church and state is
absolute. He pledged to address issues of conscience out of a focus on
the national interest, not out of adherence to the dictates of one religion. He
confessed that if at any point a conflict arose between his responsibility to
defend the Constitution and the dictates of his religion, he would resign from
public office. No less a commitment to religious liberty should be acceptable
by any judicial nominee or by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who
recommend for confirmation to the bench persons charged with defending the
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy is president of The Interfaith Alliance
(www.interfaithalliance.org), a nonpartisan, clergy-led grassroots
organization dedicated to promoting the healing role of religion in public life
and to challenging religious political extremism.