I Thought God-Fearing Judges Were a Good Thing
Today in America, a Catholic candidate has faced opposition because her views are Christian.
In ancient Israel, when judges were being appointed, the first qualification was that they had to be God-fearing. Today in America, it seems that some political leaders view faith in God as a liability for judges. Especially if it is a deeply-grounded Christian faith.
We know that ancient Israel was a theocracy while America is not. We understand that Israelite judges ruled on religious law as well as civil law. In fact, there was hardly any separation between the two. But it was also understood that a God-fearing judge would be a fair and equitable judge, since he knew that he had a Judge standing over him.
That’s why Moses was counseled to “look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe,” and to “let them judge the people at all times” (Exod. 18:21-22).
Centuries later, King Jehoshaphat exhorted the judges in his day, saying, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes” (2 Chr 19:6-7).
Since there is no injustice or partiality with God, a God-fearing judge would presumably be prone to just and impartial decisions. The fear of God would help him to conduct himself honorably. He would not be moved by human opinion or popularity, knowing that one day he would give account to that one just Judge.
I’m not saying that an atheist could not be a good judge or should not be allowed to serve as a judge. Philosophically, I believe there can be ethical, fair-minded atheists. Article VI of the Constitution flatly rejects the idea that one must profess a certain religion in order to serve in public office.
The Constitution’s “No Religious Test” Clause
But this is where things get interesting. Last week three Democratic senators challenged the qualifications of Prof. Amy Coney Barrett. They expressed concern that her Catholic faith could potentially skew her judgment. To many, this was an outrageous line of argument, directly violating the “no religious test” clause of the Constitution.
Yet the reason that clause was put in the Constitution was not to ensure that a person of faith would be allowed to serve. Instead, it was assumed that those serving in public office would likely be Protestant Christians, and the founders did not want a religious test put on them. In other words, they did not want one group of Christians (say, Presbyterians) to restrict other Christians (say, Baptists) from serving.
To the extent we view Christian faith as an enemy, we undermine the very source of our liberties and freedoms.
And what if this opened the door to non-Protestant Christians — or even non-Christians — serving in public office? Indeed, as explained in the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, “Jews,” “Turks,” “infidels,” “heathens,” and even “Roman Catholics” might hold national office under the proposed Constitution. That was an eventuality they were willing to accept, but it was clearly viewed as the exception to the expected rule.
In the days of America’s founding, a Catholic candidate for public office might have faced opposition because he was not Protestant. But in the end, his Catholicism could not be held against him. Today, a Catholic candidate has faced opposition because her views are Christian — in other words, because she is a woman of faith.
This represents a radical departure from our Judeo-Christian foundations.
Forgotten Faith Foundations
It also represents a dangerous departure from our origins. To the extent we view Christian faith as an enemy, we undermine the very source of our liberties and freedoms. G. K. Chesterton once remarked, “If I did not believe in God, I should still want my doctor, my lawyer and my banker to do so.”
I would add to that (as a personal preference, not a Constitutional one), “I would want my judge to believe in God too.”
May the Lord grant us a multitude of God-fearing, justice-loving, impartial, and fair judges in the years ahead. And may the Lord restore sanity to those congressional leaders who seem to have forgotten the faith foundations of America.
As I argue at length in Saving a Sick America, recovering those foundations is essential for the future welfare of our country.