Richard Cohen of the Washington Post is upset about an advertisement running in parts of New England that accuses Senate Democrats of blocking appellate court nominee William Pryor because of his Catholic beliefs. Cohen is particularly unhappy with former White House Counsel Boyden Gray, who heads the committee that sponsored the ad, and with former President Bush who lent his name to the cause. Cohen argues that Senate Democrats do not oppose Pryor because of his religious beliefs but because he tries to impose those beliefs on others.
Actually, Senate Democrats have attacked Pryor on the grounds of his religious beliefs. As I noted a few months ago, Pryor was criticized by Democrats because he cancelled a family trip to Disney World when he found out that the visit coincided with gay pride day. In this instance, the Democrats were objecting to Pryor’s private choice, not to any attempt to impose values on others. In effect, the Democrats were attempting to impose their values on Pryor and his family. Thus, in a very direct way, Senate Democrats seem to be opposing Pryor because of his religious beliefs.
They are also doing so in a less direct, but even more important way. Cohen points to statements by Pryor in which he expresses his hope that America will restore “its Christian perspective.” I don’t understand how a serious Christian could hope for anything else. I hope, as a general matter, that Christian values prevail in this country, and I’m not even a Christian. Cohen and the Senate Democrats can only be arguing that one should be disqualified from serving in the federal judiciary unless one is indifferent about how Christian values fare in our society, or (perhaps) one affirmatively hopes that they do not prevail. So the advertisement is correct at two levels in stating that Pryor is being opposed because of his “deeply held” Catholic beliefs. Senate Democrats will not oppose nominees for being a Catholic (or other type of Christian), but they will oppose nominees who are serious enough about being Catholic (or other type of Christian) to hope that the values of their religion prevail. In other words, they will oppose those with deeply held religious beliefs.
One other point. Pryor, no matter how serious a Catholic, will not impose his views on others. The cases he will hear involving “cultural” issues will almost always arise from action taking by the legislature or the people directly — e.g., a ban on pornography or sodomy, or the use of public funds for an arguably religious purpose. Liberal judges, when they strike down these laws, may or may not be imposing their preferences or moral views. Conservative judges, when they uphold these laws, are ratifying the popular will. This is not say that they should not carefully scrutinize what the public has imposed to make sure that constitutionally protected freedoms are not being abridged. In fact, they should. But, again, these cases should not be decided only by judges who are indifferent or hostile to Christian beliefs and values, as the Senate Democrats would have it.
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