One of the historical oddities of George W. Bush’s decision to nominate Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court is that if confirmed, he will establish a majority on the court of Roman Catholics. This fact hasn’t gotten a lot of comment so far, in part because it is and should be irrelevant to his qualifications, and in part because hardly anyone noticed that Clarence Thomas reverted to his Catholic upbringing in recent years, joining Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Chief Justice Roberts as Catholic members of SCOTUS. Given the brief but intense campaign by some conservative evangelicals to tout Alito’s unsuccessful predecessor, Harriet Miers, as establishing an “evangelical seat” on the Court, you have to wonder how they privately feel about yet another Catholic nomination. My friend Amy Sullivan, that intrepid interpreter of all things religio-political, has been calling around to some of them to see if they’ll open up on the subject, but has so far been met with the usual conservative Talking Points about how great it is to have a SCOTUS nominee who rejects judicial activism and respects Original Intent, etc., etc.Now to be sure, most evangelical Protestants this side of Bob Jones University have discarded most of the hard-line Reformation view of the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon, the Scarlet Woman of the Book of Revelations, and of the Vatican as the most likely address of the Antichrist. And indeed, the detente between evangelicals and Catholics (at least outside Latin America), partly theological, and partly the result of tactical alliances over social and political issues like abortion, has led to one major book with the provocative title: “Is the Reformation Over?”Still, we are not that far away from centuries of bitter hostility between Catholics and evangelicals (including, of course, the heavy involvement of evangelical clergy in the effort to oppose John F. Kennedy’s election on religious grounds), and there remain a host of theological divisions, especially between the conservatives in both communions who are most likely to agree on political issues. There are a sizable number of evangelicals, for instance, (e.g., those in Harriet Miers’ church) who think infant baptism is meaningless, and that even adult baptism is insufficient for salvation unless it involves full immersion. Even though many evangelicals deeply admired Pope John Paul II for his anti-communism and cultural traditionalism, the intensity of his Marian devotion probably troubled them a lot if they thought about it. And deep divisions remain between evangelicals and Catholics on a whole host of liturgical and ecclesiastical issues.None of this, of course, means politicized conservative evangelicals wouldn’t be happy with a Justice like Alito, who on the key constitutional issues they care about, has nearly perfect views. But beneath the surface, you do have to wonder what they think about the heavy representation of their ancient enemy, as contrasted with their own invisibility, on an institution that they regard as one of the commanding heights of American society.Maybe one of them will confess to Amy, and we’ll find out the truth.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Always on the lookout for a new wrinkle on ancient battles, I drew attention to a recent legal development at New York:
Though the constitutional law of “religious liberty” is a murky field, we are all accustomed to hearing anguished claims from conservative Christians that laws requiring them to provide or pay for reproductive-health services or treat LGBTQ employees and customers equally are an unacceptable violation of their beliefs. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the federal right to an abortion, it’s clearer than ever that the Christian right and its Republican allies are aiming to construct a system where they are free to live their values as they wish, regardless of the impact on others.
But as a new lawsuit in Florida shows, what’s good for the conservative goose may also be good for the progressive gander. A group of religious officials are arguing in state court that the new anti-abortion law enacted this year by Florida Republicans violates their right to religious expression. The Washington Post reports:
“Seven Florida clergy members — two Christians, three Jews, one Unitarian Universalist and a Buddhist … argue in separate lawsuits filed Monday that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new, post-Roe abortion law. The law, which is one of the strictest in the country, making no exceptions for rape or incest, was signed in April by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in a Pentecostal church alongside antiabortion lawmakers such as the House speaker, who called life ‘a gift from God.’”
The plaintiffs in these suits most definitely want to rebut the idea that forced birth is the only authentically “religious” perspective on abortion services. After all, as United Church of Christ minister Laurie Hafner explains, the anti-abortion cause has little biblical sanction:
“Jesus says nothing about abortion. He talks about loving your neighbor and living abundantly and fully. He says: ‘I come that you might have full life.’ Does that mean for a 10-year-old to bear the child of her molester? That you cut your life short because you aren’t able to rid your body of a fetus?”
The legal theory in the lawsuits focuses specifically on the counseling of pregnant people and their families that clergy engage in routinely, and that under the new Florida law may be treated as the illegal aiding and abetting of criminal acts. Hafner’s suit alleges that this violates both federal and state constitutional rights, along with Florida’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a 1993 federal “religious liberty” law):
“The dramatic change in abortion rights in Florida has caused confusion and fear among clergy and pregnant girls and women particularly in light of the criminal penalties attached. Given her general duties and work as a Pastor, Plaintiff intends to engage in counseling regarding abortion beyond the narrow limits of HB 5 and, therefore, risks incarceration and financial penalties.”
It’s unclear how this argument will fare in the courts. Conservative judges may stipulate that anti-abortion laws impinge on religious-liberty rights that are nonetheless outweighed by the state’s “compelling interest” in fetal life. But at least, for once, the judiciary and the public will have to come to grips with the fact that many millions of pro-choice religious Americans passionately oppose what is happening to our country in the name of “life.” During the run-up to this week’s resounding “no” vote on a constitutional amendment removing any hint of abortion rights in the state’s constitution, a Presbyterian Church in Kansas displayed a sign that read, “Jesus trusted women. So do we.” This was likely an allusion to the “Trust Women” motto of the famous Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who in 2009 was assassinated in the foyer of the church in which he was serving as an usher. His legacy lives on in houses of worship and now in the courts.