Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Supreme Court now taken over by Christian Nationalists

Vol. 37 No. 09 November 2020
Amy Coney Barrett cartoon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

President Trump’s newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is going to be a disaster for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and will complete the Christian Nationalist takeover of the high court for more than a generation, the Freedom From Religion Foundation asserts.

Barrett’s biography and writings reveal a startling, life-long allegiance to religion over the law. The 48-year-old Roman Catholic attended a Catholic high school and a Presbyterian-affiliated college and then graduated from Notre Dame Law School, where she taught for 15 years. She clerked for archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and significantly, like the late justice, is considered an “originalist” or “textualist” who insists on applying what is claimed to be the “original intent” of the framers. She and her parents have belonged to a fringe conservative Christian group, People of Praise, which teaches that husbands are the heads of household. Barrett’s nomination hearing for a judgeship on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where she has served for less than three years, documented her many controversial and disturbing positions on religion vis-à-vis the law.

Barrett is now the sixth Catholic on the nine-member court. (This count does not include Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but describes himself as Episcopalian.) Throughout her career and personal life, Barrett has made it clear that everything, including the law, is a means to promoting her personal religion and the “Kingdom of God.”

“Barrett will unquestionably eviscerate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” warn FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Many of our other hard-won freedoms will also likely be gutted.”

During her rushed confirmation hearings, Barrett refused to answer any questions regarding Roe V. Wade, the Affordable Care Act and climate change.

“I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial,” Barrett told Sen. Kamala Harris in response to a question on whether climate change is a fact.

However, Barrett lied when she testified that “I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference.” She recently served as trustee of Christian schools which barred gay teachers and children of same-sex parents.

Crucially, Barrett replaces Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a brilliant legal mind and defender of vital constitutional and secular values, including separation of state and church, women’s equality, reproductive justice, voting rights, LGBTQ equality and environmental justice. In 2015, Barrett publicly pledged to support Catholic teachings against death with dignity legislation, against contraception and abortion, against LGBTQ rights and marriage equality and even against divorce.

Alarmingly, Barrett has been critical of the principle of stare decisis or precedent, writing that a justice’s duty is to “enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.” This signals she would have no compunctions overturning Roe v. Wade or the more than 70 years of clear Supreme Court precedent protecting the rights of conscience and keeping religious ritual out of our public schools.

During her confirmation hearings, Barrett said that Roe V. Wade is not a “super-precedent” that can’t be overturned.

Even more alarmingly, Barrett wants to use the law to make a “Kingdom of God.” For Barrett, her “legal career is but a means to an end . . . and that end is building the Kingdom of God,” according to her 2006 commencement address to Notre Dame Law School. She added: “Keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.”

Nearly 200 faculty of Notre Dame signed letters opposing her confirmation.

And yet more alarming, Barrett has made statements indicating that her religion would trump her oath of office. Barrett co-authored an article in 1998 about the conflict of Catholic dogma and the law, which, she wrote, can put “Catholic judges in a bind.” The article was couched in terms of judges recusing themselves from death penalty cases, but she added: “The prohibitions against abortion and euthanasia (properly defined) are absolute; those against war and capital punishment are not.”

When such a conflict arises, Barrett has recommended that judges should “conform their own behavior to the [Catholic] Church’s standard,” rather than upholding their secular oath. When invited to repudiate this statement at her confirmation hearing in 2017, Barrett declined to do so.

A cause for concern is Barrett’s membership in a Charismatic Catholic group. Barrett is part of People of Praise, a “Charismatic Christian parachurch organization.” Former members call it “a cult.” The group was founded in South Bend, Ind., where Barrett was a professor. “Members are in spiritual bondage,” an ex-member has said. In 2005, People of Praise’s official magazine described Barrett’s own mother, Linda, as a “handmaid.” The group seems to require loyalty oaths of its members, which could conflict with her oath of office.

“There are serious and deep concerns about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s affiliation with People of Praise and her past comments about the conflict between faith and law,” as FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel told ABC News. “Not only is her connection to this community and her previous writings fair to ask about, but senators have a duty to the Constitution to ask those questions.”

Her short time on the bench has been marked by a series of objectionable votes that predict how calamitous her appointment to the high court would become: Barrett believes that women should not be permitted to obtain an abortion even in cases of severe fetal abnormality. Even if a judge finds that a pregnant minor is mature enough to exercise her right to choose to terminate the pregnancy, Barrett believes that the minors’ parents must be told. Combine that with her view that health care should be stripped from Americans (a position she has not publicly repudiated even in the midst of a pandemic) and it reveals a supremely cruel vision of the law — a total betrayal of Ginsburg’s ethos. People will die and families will go financially and emotionally bankrupt under Barrett’s medieval jurisprudence.

During the pandemic, Barrett has ruled that religious services should be exempt from a general ban on large gatherings in Illinois, even though the ban applied to other large gatherings, such as political rallies, and even though the sweeping exemption undermines the entire point of the emergency health order. This dangerous decision put the 7th Circuit at odds with the vast majority of federal courts, which have correctly concluded that religion does not entitle a believer to flout public health laws.

Barrett’s writings, statements and affiliations attest to her conviction that Catholic lawyers are on a religious mission to serve their God and build that deity’s kingdom — clearly conflicting with the oath Supreme Court justices must take to uphold our secular Constitution. Barrett’s lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court will have far-reaching and ruinous effects on a woman’s right to choose, the right to die with dignity, the death penalty, and the collision of Catholic health care and our secular law.