“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you…” These were the words Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Directed at 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame University. This was a direct shot taken at Coney Barrett’s Catholics beliefs. Alluding to one’s faith—regardless of what it may be– as something that can disqualify someone from a public position is something that puts the very heart of our democracy, in danger. Applying faith tests to public positions should be an alarming precedent that must be loudly condemned by members of all faiths, and those who hold democracy near and dear to their heart.
One of the great observations that Marquis Alexis de Tocqueville made when visiting the United States in 1831, was that while in France religion was seen as a foe to democracy, in America, religion was not only not working against democracy, but in fact, it was working hand in hand with enabling democracy. This great partnership between religion and government has helped Americans of all faiths feel at home in America.
The kind of battles over religion in the public sphere that can be seen in Europe and the tensions that come with that have not been a source of conflict in America. This has contributed to the social pluralism, stability, and creativity the United States has incorporated into every layer of society. It’s this peace and civil partnership that we must work to secure. Assuring Americans that they will never be at a disadvantage because of what they think or believe makes of a better, more tolerant, and more diverse America. It has been pointed out that this is also why Muslim immigrants who come to America assimilate into America society in a far smoother way and why America does not suffer the woes of terror and radicalization the same way Europe does.
This is all the more true in the case of public servants. Since America’s very foundation, religion has played a great role in inspiring and motivating, public servants. From the declaration of independence refers to the “Creator” to many other religious inferences, America’s public office was inspired and entrenched, with religious convictions.
The protection, and even appreciation, for religious beliefs were not limited to the Christian faith. In 1787, as the state Pennsylvania required in its constitution that those who take office swear their belief in the truth of the New Testament, Phillips wrote to George Washington:
That all men have a natural and inalienable Right To worship almighty God according to the dictates of their own Conscience and understanding… nor can any man who acknowledges the being of a God be Justly deprived or abridged of any Civil Right as a Citizen on account of his Religious Sentiments or peculiar mode of Religious Worship and that no authority can or aught to be vested in or assumed by any power what Ever that shall in any Case interfere or in any manner Controul the Right of Conscience in the free Exercise of Religious Worship.
And indeed, in 1890 the state of Pennsylvania revised its constitution to read:” “That no person who acknowledges the being of a God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, shall, on account of his religious sentiments be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this commonwealth”
What was true then, should be true now. No one should be attacked or criticized for their religious beliefs when taking public office, or at any other time. Religious communities must unite in condemning any assault on religious beliefs, which are by nature intimate, and sacred to their holder.
The success of our democracy is rooted in the pluralism and the belief that faith cannot be mandated. Will some of professor Amy Coney Barrett decisions be guided by her faith which is not shared by many Americans? Of course. But every person in any position comes with a set of morals and beliefs which guide them in their decision-making and that is what makes America America. With good will towards one another, and the ability to get along with others not despite our disagreements, but because of our disagreements, we can look forward to a better, more tolerant, and freer society in which all people feel.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, teacher, and writer, and blogger. He lives with his wife in New York City.