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Editorial: Barrett's religion is her personal business, not the Supreme Court's

Editorial: Barrett's religion is her personal business, not the Supreme Court's

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Judiciary Committee deliberations

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, speaks with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., center, and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., left,  during a January committee hearing. 

Try as Democrats did to coax out substantive responses from Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Barrett steadfastly refused to reveal her stance on some of the most important issues she might weigh as a justice. She didn’t really have to because her Republican defenders outlined her positions for her.

“You’re Catholic, … a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“There’s nothing wrong with confirming to the Supreme Court of the United States a devout Catholic, pro-life, Christian,” said Missouri’s junior senator, Josh Hawley.

“Pro-life, pro-family, pro-religion,” added Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

If Barrett were being considered for a church leadership position, perhaps those endorsements should carry weight. But on the high court, as Barrett has stated repeatedly in this week’s hearings, the law rules supreme, blind to religious preference.

A 1967 Supreme Court case that came up for discussion in her hearing underscores the dangers when religious conservatives enshrine in law what they mistakenly believe is God’s will. The case, Loving v. Virginia, challenged a longstanding Virginia statute banning interracial marriage. Police burst into the home of a newly married mixed-race couple in a bid to catch them in bed having interracial sex in violation of a three-decade old Virginia law. They faced banishment and one year in prison as the case worked its way through appellate courts.

The original sentencing judge defended his ruling by arguing that “Almighty God created” different races and “placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such [interracial] marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

From the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan to the exclusion of Blacks from Bob Jones University until the 1970s, religion has been invoked as a bogus justification for bigotry. Though the circumstances behind Loving v. Virginia might seem ludicrous today, there still seems to be no letup in efforts by religious conservatives to impose their version of “God’s will” on others.

Without citing her religion, Barrett has openly expressed skepticism of controversial Supreme Court rulings such as the 2015 decision upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry. Her defenders, including Hawley and Graham, have couched her stand as an exercise of her religious faith, and they have tried to extend this argument to her opposition to abortion rights.

Examples abound from 16th-century England to modern Iran of the disastrous results when governments try to turn articles of faith into articles of law. Which is why the First Amendment clearly specifies the dividing line between government and religion. If Barrett can’t uphold such a basic, logical concept, she has no business serving on the nation’s highest court.

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