I’ve always been a firm believer in the separation of church and state. Last week, my belief was reinforced when I heard Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., questioning Amy Coney Barrett, a federal court nominee, during her nomination hearing.
Apparently, these senators were concerned with the nominee’s religious beliefs, insinuating that her orthodox Catholic views might cloud her judgment when interpreting and applying the law.
During the hearing, Feinstein made this point clear when she suggested many of Barrett’s speeches were so infected by Christian belief that upon reading them one is forced to conclude that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”
Sadly, I wasn’t surprised by this line of questioning. In a previous nomination hearing, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said core Christian beliefs, like the centrality of Christ, were essentially Islamaphobic and hateful and therefore should disqualify anyone who believed them from holding a federal position.
When these comments were widely reported in the media, conservative commentators saw them as evidence of a growing liberal bias toward people of faith, where Christians were increasingly expected to pass a religious test to determine their fitness for federal office.
Now, I’m the kind of person who likes to look at all sides of an issue before making a judgment about a controversial subject. So, in the interests of fairness, I decided to consider what these senators were actually saying to see if I could determine any merit in their arguments.
>From my review, the strength of their position lies in the distinction Feinstein made between the law and Christian dogma during Barrett’s hearing. Essentially, she claimed the law and dogma are two separate things that should not intermingle when making judgments about judicial matters.
In essence, Feinstein expressed deep concerns that Barrett’s Christian beliefs would be the driving force behind her judgments on issues like abortion and women’s rights. For that reason, she seems to be arguing for a more objective approach, one that eliminates bias and considers the law and nothing else.
At first glance, I thought this was a reasonable position, one based on the primacy of law and judicial precedence. After all, eliminating prejudice and bias seems to be a good thing, no matter the issue.
However, upon closer examination, I discovered a couple of problems that seem to undermine what these senators are claiming.
First, for an argument based on the principle of objectivity to be successful, that principle must be universally applied in all situations. For these lawmakers, it sometimes seems easier for them to point out the bias of Christians but remain silent when it comes to other religions.
Obviously, anyone who claims to be religious, irrespective of their particular faith, is susceptible to having their judgments influenced by their beliefs. The fact that Feinstein and others seem uninterested in non-Christian bias is a sign their supposed interest in objectivity is a ploy to hide their own entrenched secular prejudices.
These secular biases lead us to a second problem, which I consider more serious than the first. Secular beliefs, just like religious ones, represent a dogma that operates similarly to the Christian one Feinstein seems to believe is so subversive.
Simply put, you can’t claim to be a champion of objectivity when your own secular teachings cloud your judgment just as effectively as any deeply held Christian belief.
If you’re truly troubled about the influence of bias, then you should be concerned about all bias, even your own. Considering the comments that have been made by these senators, I don’t believe they’ll be evaluating their own prejudices anytime soon.
Lastly, questioning a person’s fitness for a federal position based solely upon their Christian beliefs is not only biased, it’s wrong - it represents a government infringement upon an individual’s religious freedom and should be denounced for the hypocrisy it is.
As noted, I believe in the separation of church and state. However, I see the comments by Feinstein and her allies as an example of a simmering hostility toward Christianity that one day may lead to more significant issues.
I’m hopeful this never happens.
Roger Steele’s column publishes on a regular basis in The Times. Contact Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131.