The recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court ignited a controversy that is hardly surprising—the conversation on the proper role of faith in politics. Unlike Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh, Barrett is more outspoken and unwavering in her faith. Her practice in the Catholic Church has made her a ripe target for attacks.
As soon as she was reportedly a favorite from President Trump, the media highlighted her involvement in the People of Praise, a charismatic organization of Catholics. Her comments in 2005, when she was a professor at Notre Dame and not a judge, condemning Roe v. Wade and abortion were unraveled. The progressive mantra of ‘separation of church and state’ is predictably being deployed at every opportunity.
In 2017, Sen. Feinstein charged that the “dogma lives loudly within you” during Barrett’s confirmation hearings for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Any politician’s references to religion and faith in their tweets or public statements seem to be met with these constant attacks.
What does separation of church and state mean?
Does it mean that politicians and government officials cannot bring their faith into their politics? Does this mean that America should be a secular country, with no official church and no incorporation of religious principles?
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington declared November 26th—Thanksgiving—a day of prayer and almsgiving to the Almighty God. In his preface, he declares, “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”
Nine days earlier, the Conference Committee of the United States Congress established separation of church and state insofar as Congress could not establish an official religion and an official church. Did the first president, the champion of democracy and fortitude, violate a sacred constitutional principle just after it was established?
The politics of the Founding Fathers and the Framers were hardly monolithic; their theology was even more fragmented, and it is a testament to the purpose of America as a haven of religious freedom. However, Washington’s theology reflected a principle dating back to antiquity that incorporated ethics, resting on the premise of faith, in politics. The concept of democracy can be said to be religious, as its foundation rests on the common good and a universal providence where a society can transcend limitations and seek a greater good.
Plato’s Republic details a hierarchy and a basis for politics with the Greek gods. St. Augustine of Hippo’s City of God is a monumental work of political theory, where the government assists man to his natural ends and balances the conflict between God and the Devil and it is clear that governance is an act of divine providence. St. Thomas Aquinas writes about the necessity of governments to promote the common good above all, favoring monarchy (the commonplace of medieval European ordinance) in his Summa Theologica. Islamic philosopher and polymath Avicenna favored religious ethics in the intellectual capacity of governments.
President Washington was not violating his own brothers’ constitutional principles, but rather appealing to an ancient tradition of this relationship between faith and politics.
America’s conversation on faith and politics seems to be governed by two camps: a) the secular camp that reduces religion to a framework of simply being moral, an echo of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, and favors removing religion from the public sphere on a terrible misinterpretation of the 1st Amendment, and b) the camp propagating Christian nationalism, a reactionary movement against the increasing secularism and opposition to religion in socialist states, favoring a massive overlap between American identity and white, Protestant identity.
Both of these models should be rejected by religious and civic leaders.
Rampant secularism leads to a form of individualism that rejects the notion of objective morality, the common good and makes governments stand for nothing but protecting the worship of false ideals. Christian nationalism may make appeals to the common good, but it protects this concept of individualism that ignores fraternity, fellowship, and true, willing virtue. A government that ignores the cries of migrants at the border and gains success through deceit and divisiveness should not call itself Christian anymore than a lapsed Catholic should lecture others about what the faith entails.
Fortunately, Amy Coney Barrett does not represent either of these camps. Her qualifications as a federal judge and a former legal professor should be at the forefront of her confirmation hearings; what the Senate should not focus on is her faith, her “dogma,” and this type of religious testing that the Constitution rightfully forbids. What the Republicans and the conservative movement should not do is celebrate her appointment in the framework of Christian nationalism.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.