A wolf in judge’s robes

As I begin this post to warn you about the extreme danger posed to all of us by Donald Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, and not just the absurd, hypocritical way she is being rushed through to confirmation with less than a month to go before a presidential election, to ensure a conservative tilt to the makeup of the highest court in the land for a generation threatening everything from healthcare to public safety, I am bracing myself for the nasty-grams I know will litter my inbox tomorrow morning, the weakest argument of which will be that I oppose her because she is Catholic.

Donald Trump and Amy Coney Barrett

In a country that respects the freedom of and the freedom from religion, I have no interest in how Judge Barrett chooses to live her faith.  What is of legitimate concern to me and, quite frankly, should be of grave concern to all Americans, is whether she is willing and capable of setting aside her life choices when ruling on matters that directly affect the life choices of her fellow Americans.

In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, Thomas Jefferson, one of this country’s founders and most revered architects, aptly synthesizes the crucial importance of the principle of separating personal beliefs from governance when he writes, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

President Jefferson was no stranger to religion, but unlike Judge Barrett, he understood the importance of upholding the law before infecting it with his personal beliefs.  Judge Barrett describes herself as a “faithful Catholic” and evinces a strong dislike for legal precedence, openly stating her hostility toward a woman’s right to choose what happens with her own body, LGBTQ rights, as well as Obamacare and its protections for those with pre-existing conditions — in short, her membership in a small, fringe Christian group and her own writings show a willingness to substitute her beliefs and enforce them on everyone in this country rather than the first and most important duty of any jurist:  upholding the laws which safeguard the basic liberties of the American people.

Judge Barrett’s ideological alignment with her colleague and friend at Notre Dame University, Catholic philosopher Patrick Deneen, underscores the grave threat she poses to American values like pluralism and justice for all.  Deneen is a signatory to a manifesto that denounces the “failed conservative consensus that preceded Trump.”  In its place he proposes a new kind of conservatism, one that proposes the “non-negotiable dignity of every unborn life” (i.e., would outlaw abortion), openly embraces the “new nationalism” (just a nice way of saying xenophobia or extreme prejudice against foreigners) and opposes “wombs for rent” (the rights of both gay and straight couples to build families through surrogacy) and the “dehumanizing attempts at…the severing of the link between sex and gender” (this is a blatant articulation of transphobia).  Deneen and his ilk (like Ross Douthat of the New York Times) cleverly use their Christian faith as a smoke-screen for promoting exclusionary, white nationalist ideas.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Judge Barrett’s whacky Christian fundamentalism has already had dire consequences.  She was in favor of a decision of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, on which she currently sits, that granted an exemption to churches and other religious gatherings from state-mandated, in-person assembly caps.  Against the advice of scientists and public health officials and experts, this decision undoubtedly contributed to the truly staggering and utterly avoidable coronavirus death toll in America, which sits at 214,000 lives as of this writing, and is rising.  What happened to the “dignity of life?”  Or does it only apply to the unborn?   Such conservative judicial activism seeks to privilege religion above every other consideration.  It is not just dangerous, it is deadly.

The confirmation of Judge Barrett to be a Justice on the Supreme Court for the rest of her life poses an existential threat to America’s religious freedom, which, let’s not forget, includes the right to live lives free of religious ideologues imposing their will on us.  This nomination must not be allowed to succeed, for the sake of the religious and the non-religious alike.

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