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Roberts' Religion on the Media Mind

By Craig von Buseck

CBN.comA quick review of recent news and op-ed articles shows that religion is very much alive in America -- and that Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts' religious views are dominating the press.

Writing for the Boston Globe opinion page, Cathy Young explains that the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John Roberts has once again fanned into flame the controversy over faith and the confirmation process.

"Law professor Jonathan Turley has reported in The Los Angeles Times that during a meeting with Roberts on Capitol Hill, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, asked him about potential conflicts between his Catholic beliefs and the law when it came to abortion or the death penalty. While Durbin's office denies the account, it has added more fuel to conservative complaints that Democrats are imposing a bigoted and unlawful 'religious test' to keep 'people of faith' off the federal bench."

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) agrees that the "religious litmus test" is being applied to the Roberts nomination process.

"In what is not a surprising move, some in the Senate, as well as public interest groups, have increased the call for scrutiny over Judge Roberts because of his Catholic faith. As I have mentioned in previous Daily Trial Notebook postings, the idea that there would be a religious litmus test to serve on the Supreme Court is not only repugnant, it is also unconstitutional. The Court specifically has no religious test for serving in federal government. The idea that John Roberts would somehow be disqualified because he takes his faith seriously is outrageous."

In the Boston Globe article, Young goes on to cite Family Research Council president Tony Perkins' comments on Senator Durbin's alleged questioning of Roberts' faith. ''It sends a very clear message to people: 'OK, you can be religious, but if you want to do that and live by those religious convictions, then ... you have to choose between that and serving in public office.'"

Young replies with a confusing, but typical mantra from the liberal play book. "…no one has made an issue out of any nominee's ability to live by his or her religious convictions in private life. (If a Catholic nominee were asked whether he or she shuns artificial birth control, that would be completely outrageous.) The question is whether a jurist's or politician's religion should play a role in his or her views on law and policy."

How exactly does that work? Oh, I remember. "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I don't believe we should legislate morality…"

Please tell me, how does a person separate their religious beliefs from their political beliefs? It's one thing if a person doesn't buy into their religion's dogma on a particular issue -- like Tom Ridge or John Kerry being pro-choice politicians because they don't agree with the stance of the Catholic Church on the abortion issue. But how do you keep yourself from allowing your religious views from influencing your political views if you happen to firmly believe in the biblical doctrine of your church?

I have come to the conclusion that people who try to convince others to separate their religious views from their political views don't get it because, well, they don't get it. If you don't believe that there are moral absolutes set into this world by a personal God, then you can easily set aside religious beliefs because, after all, they're only man-made ideas, right?

But how do you separate your religious beliefs from your political positions if you really do believe in a personal God who has revealed truth to mankind?

The answer is, you can't.

And this is making liberals in the media very nervous as they consider the appointment of yet another principled jurist for the Supreme Court -- and the fourth Roman Catholic on the current Supreme Court.

In a recent Agape Press article, William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, observes that "we didn't have to wait too long" for Roberts' religion to become part of the debate over the nominee's credentials and suitability for the nation's highest court. But Donohue said he recalls no similar criticism of President Bill Clinton when he nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Jewish, to the Supreme Court.

Donohue mentions a recent Associated Press poll asking if Roberts should answer senators' questions about his stance on abortion. The poll included the wording, "While deputy solicitor general in 1990, Roberts, a Roman Catholic, helped write a legal brief" that suggested Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Donohue points to the double standard. "To the unconvinced, imagine reading [this]: 'Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Jew, helped write a legal brief' for the ACLU upholding Roe," Donohue suggests, noting that according to most surveys, Jews are more uniformly in favor of abortion rights than Catholic are pro-life.

In another example, NPR's Lynn Neary said of Roberts, "And he is a Roman Catholic, and that might affect the way he views an issue like abortion, for instance."

The Catholic League leader says these are examples of how some in the media are trying to establish a "cause-and-effect relationship" between the fact that Roberts is Catholic and his presumed position on abortion. Donohue says he sees such treatment as more than just "red flags" of media bias. "These are the marks of bigotry, politely expressed," he says.

A sampling of recent articles gives us a possible preview of how Roberts' religious views will be handled in the coming nomination hearing:

LA Times: "Divining a Good Catholic", by Margaret Carlson -- "Once again, with the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court, Catholics are back in the news, and two old, unpleasant issues have already reemerged. First, the question of who is or isn't religious — and how that affects one's ability to hold public office. And second, the question of who is (and who isn't) a good Catholic. … Roberts is definitely a good Catholic. He belongs to the Church of the Little Flower, a conservative parish in suburban Maryland; has worked only for Republicans, whose line he has toed, and has a wife who directed a pro-life group. So who are the bad Catholics? The easiest way to describe them is that they are … well, liberal Democrats."

The Boston Herald: "Rule for Roberts: Separate Church and State", by Marie Szaniszlo -- ``…there's an undercurrent in some of the discussions about (Roberts') nomination that shows a misunderstanding of what the role of a justice is: to interpret and apply the Constitution. Catholic doctrine doesn't determine the answers to questions of constitutional law.'' "Roberts Debate Focuses on Respect for U.S. High Court Precedent" by Greg Stohr -- ``The real issue is: What's he going to do on abortion or affirmative action or campaign finance or separation of church and state? Since 2000 the court has issued 5-4 decisions upholding abortion rights, allowing racial preferences in college admissions, permitting a ban on ``soft money'' contributions to political parties and limiting Ten Commandments displays on public property. Because O'Connor was in the majority in each case, Roberts could flip the court and overturn the earlier decision."

LA Times: "Catholic Judges and a Higher Authority", by Michael McGough -- "As a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "nothing in my personal views would prevent me" from applying Roe as an appeals court judge. That doesn't mean that he might not overturn Roe as a Supreme Court justice, given that the high court isn't as constrained to follow precedent as a lower court. But on the basic question of whether or not the law trumps faith for a judge, Roberts has spoken."

On a recent edition of Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked William Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter and New York Times columnist, 'President Bill Clinton was very clear as a candidate, Bill Safire, that he would only appoint people to the court who would uphold Roe vs. Wade. Why don't Republicans step forward and say, "We're going to put people on the bench who are going to overturn Roe vs. Wade?'"

Mr Safire sagely answered, "Because that would be foolish politically and I think there's a lot of practicality going on."

We can see from Roberts' previous answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he is not likely to tip his hand on the abortion issue during the nomination process -- there's a lot of practicality going on.

But we have some hints on Roberts personal views based on the memos he wrote as legal counsel in the Reagan White House, and from the fact that his wife was on the board of directors for Feminists for Life from 1995 to 1999 -- at one time serving as executive vice president. She currently does pro bono legal work for the organization.

Of course, a jurist or a politician doesn't make decisions based on their spouse's affiliations. But based on his record and his family ties, I believe most people would guess that Roberts is a pro-life Catholic.

And that is making many people on the left very nervous.

Send me your comments on this article.

Read Craig's Blog, ChurchWatch, on

More from Craig von Buseck on

Craig von BuseckCraig von Buseck is Ministries Director for Send him your e-mail comments on this article.



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