Dogma Lives Loudly Within One — What Amy Barrett Can Teach Us
Dianne Feinstein is co-author of Nine and Counting, signed by “the Women of the Senate” at the time (106th Congress, 2001), which had partners including the Girl Scouts of America. It belongs in a library of much advice to women from women in politics, including a 2009 book addressed to America’s daughters by Nancy Pelosi, who was then the Speaker of the House. I found these recently in my office alongside an exclamation point of sorts: a Barbie for President doll (as in the actual Mattel figure), sent to me some years ago by a group dedicated to electing a woman for president (and we know how that mission has gone of late).
I also found a sticker someone had handed me when I emceed a “Women for Roberts” press conference in what seems like a lifetime ago, when John Roberts was being opposed by the some of the same groups who recently opposed Amy Coney Barrett for nomination as a federal judge. With that last time-machine entry, I was reminded of the freshman senator who wrote to President George W. Bush in 2005 in protest because Bush had the audacity to look to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court with a man. The senator complained:
You and I both have two daughters. The profound message we should be giving to them is that their gender creates no limitations for them to live up to their God-given potential. Yet, I fear that with the loss of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor from the United States Supreme Court, we are sending the opposite message.
On that kind of logic, those who make a vocation of insisting they are champions of women in Washington should have been cheerleading for Barrett’s confirmation by Congress to the judiciary. Instead, you may have heard — or seen some portion of it emblazoned on a T-shirt by now — Senator Feinstein’s attack on Barrett during her September confirmation hearing:
Dogma and law are two different things. And, I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country. . . . You would be a no vote on Roe.
Of course, for a person who believe what the Catholic Church teaches, the observation that the dogma “live loudly” within one would not be an insult, but a complement — or at least encouragement that one might be answering the call of the baptized.
During a press conference in defense of Barrett’s nomination, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out that Amy Barrett’s faith is important to her and she’s spoken freely about it. “She’s allowed to do that in this country, by the way,” he added. Mark Rienzi — a law professor at the Catholic University of America and a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (which defended Muslim congressman Keith Ellison’s right to be sworn in to Congress with his hand on a Koran) — noted that “religious tests . . . are wrong and unconstitutional” and are “terrible echoes of tired and bigoted arguments.”
Religious tests are wrong for another reason as well: We ought to want people of faith in our midst, because we need them.
We Want People of Faith
We ought to want people of faith in our midst, because we need them. In her book It’s Dangerous to Believe, which is a plea to secular liberals to realize the illiberalism behind their hostility to people of faith in the public square, Mary Eberstadt argues that the new “Inquisitors” are unintentionally harming “good works.” She writes: The alliance arrayed against traditionalist Christians claims to be on the side of the poor and the marginalized. But its soft persecution of those same Christians jeopardizes charities that help the poor and marginalized.” She goes on to address the attacks on Christian charities, which, for instance, are being run out of the adoption business because of the insistence that they place children with same-sex couples:
What’s happening to Christian charities affirms the seismic changes in contemporary cultural reality. What best explains the incessant attacks by progressive activists on Christian charities is that the activists are behaving not like rational actors seeking the public good but like quasi-religious zealots. Motivated not just by spite and malic but by a quasi-religious doctrine all their own, they are seeking to spread their gospel in the world for its betterment — including to quasi-heathens, that is, traditionalist Christians who have yet to conform to the commandments of the sexual revolution.
You can easily extend that, or unpack that further, as applying to women. Amy Barrett didn’t need or probably want, say, help from NARAL Pro-Choice America. But the group, supposedly a bastion of women’s rights, repeatedly attacked Barrett — and members of the House and Senate who voted for her — even after her confirmation, including with misleading claims that she wanted to essentially turn the judiciary into a theocracy.
Father John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, wrote to Senator Feinstein to protest her opposition to Barrett; the dogma-test talk from her was “chilling,” he said. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, made the further point — unpacking what the religious test looks like in current application — that government should never get involved with pressing religious folks on whether they really believe what they profess to believe, disqualifying them if they do.
The truth of the matter is that people living, say, the Beatitudes loudly in the world — which they tend to do softly but earnestly, behind the scenes, not made for photo-ops — are a win for everyone, something that people of all faiths, including the secular liberal one, can welcome. And let’s debate the issues we actually disagree on out in the open, without euphemisms such as “Pro-Choice America.” That is, unless your ideology is stifling your magnanimity and true devotion to the common good.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review.