Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., spoke out against the “religious bigotry” aimed at Judge Amy Coney Barrett during the first day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings on Monday.
Since Barrett was nominated to the Court last month, she and her family have saturated the media and have had to deal with an onslaught of unfair attacks by her opponents.
Some of these attacks were related to the size of Barrett’s family and her adoption of two children from Haiti, while others targeted her faith. Barrett and her family are Catholic and belong to a group known as People of Praise.
According to their website, People of Praise is a “charismatic Christian community” who “admire the first century Christians who were led by the Holy Spirit to form a community.”
Marianne Williamson, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, likened the People of Praise group to the dystopian television series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This show depicts a futuristic and dystopian society set in the former United States where women have been stripped of their rights and are brutally subjugated. But Margaret Atwood, the author of the novel that inspired the television series, has denied that she based her book on People of Praise.
That didn’t keep Williamson from conflating the two. “It’s the repressive tenets of the ‘People of Praise’ sect she belongs to that are genuinely concerning,” Williamson said when talking about Barrett’s religion.
Political strategist Atima Omara voiced her feelings about Barrett’s nomination via Twitter saying, “Under the circumstances I’m pretty calm, yknow while the living version of Aunt Lydia in the Handmaid’s Tale gets nominated to the Supreme Court to replace a woman who literally spent her life fighting for gender equity.”
These sorts of attacks aren’t new to Barrett. In 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., protested Barrett’s nomination to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals due, in part, to her religion. Feinstein said, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern when you come to big issues.”
Republican Sens. Hawley and Sasse made it clear in their opening remarks that this kind of religious bigotry has no place in the United States Senate. Even before the proceedings began, Sen. Hawley sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., imploring him to advise his fellow Democrats to stay away from attacking Barrett’s religious beliefs.
Hawley wrote, “I call on you and every member of the Democratic Caucus to publicly reject Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s egregious personal attacks on Judge Barrett’s Christian faith during her previous confirmation hearings and to pledge you will abstain from that kind of anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-faith vitriol in the hearings to come. You owe it to the country.”
In his opening remarks during the confirmation hearing, Hawley noted that the recent attacks on Barrett’s faith were an “attempt to bring back the days of the religious test,” which the founding fathers warned against.
“Article 6 of the Constitution of the United States states clearly, and I quote, ‘No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States,’” Hawley said.
“And people of faith would be welcome in the public sphere,” he continued. “They’d be welcome there.”
He went on to say that the United States and the religious freedom it offers is unparalleled and different from any other country in the world.
He also warned that left unchecked, these kinds of attacks on Barrett and other people of faith would set a dangerous precedent for future proceedings.
“This freedom of conscience and religious liberty undergirds all of our other rights because it tells the government that it cannot tell us what to think or who we can assemble with or how we can worship. This bedrock principle of American liberty is now under attack. That is what is at stake when we read these stories attacking Judge Barrett for her faith. That’s what is at stake when my Democratic colleagues repeatedly questioned Judge Barrett and others about their religious beliefs,” he said.
“That is an attempt to bring back the days of the religious test. That is an attempt to bring back the veto power of the powerful over the religious beliefs and sincerely held convictions of the American people,” Hawley emphasized.
Sen. Sasse spoke of the attacks on Barrett as well, saying that religious freedom is the foundation of our country and how someone worships is not any of the government’s business.
“Government can wage wars, government can write parking tickets, but government cannot save souls…. Your soul is something the government can’t touch,” Sasse said.
Sasse went on to chastise the Democratic members of the committee, saying that they had no right to suggest that Barrett’s faith disqualified her from the position.
“Because religious liberty is the fundamental 101 rule in American life, we don’t have religious tests. This committee isn’t in the business of deciding whether ‘the dogma lives too loudly’ within someone,” he said.
“There are places where this committee has acted like it’s the job of the committee to delve into people’s religious communities…. Because in this committee and this Congress and this Constitutional structure, religious liberty is the basic truth, and whatever you or I or Judge Barrett believe about God isn’t any of the government’s business,” Sasse concluded.
The second day of Barrett’s confirmation hearing begins Tuesday, October 13.
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