The JFK Question
I have been meaning to post on this. Instead I point my readers to Manuel Miranda's excellent piece on Opinion Journal today. Some excerpts:
While questioning John Roberts on Tuesday, Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter asked: "Would you say that your views are the same as those expressed by John Kennedy when he was a candidate, and he spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960: 'I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.' "
Hours later, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California made it worse: "In 1960, there was much debate about President John F. Kennedy's faith and what role Catholicism would play in his administration. At that time, he pledged to address the issues of conscience out of a focus on the national interests, not out of adherence to the dictates of one's religion. . . . My question is: Do you?"
How insulting. How offensive. How invidiously ignorant to question someone like Judge Roberts with such apparent presumption and disdain for the religion he practices. The JFK question is not just the camel's nose of religious intolerance; it is the whole smelly camel.
The JFK question has no place in a Senate confirmation process. The Constitution says so. As I noted in an earlier column new secularist bigotry has found a home in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I was not the first to say so. In July 2003, the Most Rev. Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, reacted to the growing evidence of a religious test in the Senate: "Many people already believe that a new kind of religious discrimination is very welcome at the Capitol, even among elected officials who claim to be Catholic. Some things change, and some things don't. The bias against 'papism' is alive and well in America. It just has a different address."
A Catholic archbishop's voice in politics is a rare enough thing, but it was not alone. Representing more than 1,000 synagogues, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations wrote this letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee a few days earlier: "As a community of religious believers committed to full engagement with modern American society, we are deeply troubled by those who have implied that a person of faith cannot serve in a high level government post that may raise issues at odds with his or her personal beliefs."
Now, two years later, the situation is worse. Anti-Semitism marred the confirmation battles of associate justices Abe Fortas, Louis Brandeis, and Benjamin Cardozo, but it was unpronounced and hidden. John Roberts will be only the 11th Catholic (out of 109 justices) to serve on the Supreme Court in its 215-year history. But his confirmation may be a historic first. It marks the introduction, on the record, of a constitutionally prohibited religious test for a Supreme Court nominee. We are going in the wrong direction.