The controversial line of questioning by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to a candidate for the federal judiciary – who happens to be a native of Metairie – has created a fire storm about the state of religious freedom in this country. What’s your view of what happened at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 6?
First, let me set the stage with some important background. Amy Coney Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. She is the eldest of seven children of Deacon Mike Coney, who is a permanent deacon assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, and his wife Linda. Amy attended St. Catherine of Siena School and graduated from St. Mary’s Dominican High School in 1990.
She went to Rhodes College in Memphis and majored in English and minored in French before deciding she wanted a career that would allow her to establish roots and raise a family. So, she decided to go to law school, which followed in the footsteps of her father, who is an attorney. Deacon Mike was telling me recently after Mass at St. Louis Cathedral how proud he and Linda are of their daughter. Amy is married to Jesse Barrett, who is an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. The Barretts have seven children themselves – five are their biological children and two are children they adopted from Haiti. Their youngest biological child has special needs. What an incredible family! What happened at the hearing on Sept. 6 is a chilling reminder that religious freedom is eroding in the United States. Sen. Feinstein questioned Amy about the upholding of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal. The senator said this: “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.” That line of questioning was contrary to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the free exercise of one’s faith and rejects religious tests for public office. I was very proud that Amy was able to answer those questions about her faith honestly. At one point, when she was asked by Sen. Dick Durbin if she considered herself an “orthodox” Catholic, Amy replied: “If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and am a faithful Catholic, I am. Although I would stress that my present church affiliation or my religious beliefs would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.” She made it clear she would “follow unflinchingly” all legal precedent, and in the rare cases where her conscience wouldn’t let her do so, she could recuse herself. She is a woman of integrity.
What most upset you by the line of questioning?
The questions she was asked regarding her faith were not in accord with the Constitution. A person who is a candidate for the federal judiciary has a right to hold any religious belief. This is another example of the government trying to tell us what we should or should not believe. If her position on these issues had been in agreement with the senators, perhaps those questions would not have been asked. In the end, how can you separate your faith from what you do and how you live your life? To say one’s beliefs would not influence one’s decision-making process is illogical. However, Amy did say she would follow legal precedent and recuse herself if her religious beliefs did not allow her to do so. The government can’t tell us not to use our faith. Some people will insist that the government is not really interfering with our religious freedom, but the reality is that government is telling us we can practice our faith inside the church but not practice it when we get outside. That sounds like semantics – but freedom of worship is not the same thing as freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is a much broader concept, and we must be allowed to bring our religious beliefs into the marketplace. Instead of simply assessing the professional merits of candidate for the federal judiciary, several senators challenged her fitness – due to her Catholic faith – to serve. That is wrong. We must be allowed to practice our Catholic faith freely and unapologetically.
What have the U.S. bishops done about the battle over religious freedom?
We have set up an ad hoc committee on religious freedom in the past, but now that committee has been made permanent. There will be an election to choose the bishop to chair that committee. As recent events have indicated, this will be a necessary resource the bishops will use to maintain vigilance over the increasing attacks on our religious freedom.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to email@example.com.