Clarence Thomas blasts use of religious tests in judicial confirmation process

April 15, 2019

Clarence Thomas blasts use of religious tests in judicial confirmation process Steven Frame / Shutterstock.com

Clarence Thomas is ordinarily a quiet man, but when religious liberty is under siege, he does not remain silent.

Known for being a devout Christian, the typically circumspect Justice Thomas condemned the use of religious litmus tests when evaluating judges and disputed the notion that religion interferes with a judge’s job.

His comments came in response to a question about Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) grilling of Catholic judge Amy Coney Barrett over her faith. “I thought we got away from religious tests,” Thomas told an audience at Pepperdine University School of Law’s annual banquet on Apr. 4.

Justice Thomas slams religious tests

Thomas’s comments, first reported by the Daily Caller, were a response to a question about whether a judge’s religious views should be considered when evaluating their fitness. The question was framed in reference to Feinstein’s infamous attack on Barrett’s faith during the judge’s confirmation hearing in September 2017. Feinstein suggested that Barrett’s beliefs would compromise her job, declaring, “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

Feinstein’s inquisition of Barrett was widely seen as amounting to a bona fide religious test. Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Thomas, who is a Catholic, lamented that religious tests are still in currency and contested the notion, increasingly shared by progressives, that Christians cannot be entrusted with interpreting the law fairly — primarily on account of their personal objections to progressive views on sexuality. Thomas said he doesn’t know a “single judge who has allowed religion to interfere with their jobs.”

To the contrary, Thomas said that praying in the morning can help judges keep their egos, and personal prejudices, in check.

“I think if you start the day on your knees you approach your job differently from when you start thinking that someone anointed you to impose your will on others,” Thomas said.

Open hostility to faith demands a defense

That humility is wholly lacking in the Democrats’ growing hostility not only to public expressions of faith, but to the private religious beliefs of federal appointees. Indeed, Thomas’ reference to “imposing your will on others” seems to have been lost on Senate Democrats. While Barrett’s grilling is arguably the most famous, Thomas’ response touched on a broader trend of Democrats subjecting Catholic judicial nominees to religious tests.

In February, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Judge Neomi Rao whether she believed gay relationships are sinful during her confirmation hearing. And in December of 2018, Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) grilled attorney Brian Buescher over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a mainstream conservative Catholic organization and suggested that he was unqualified to serve because of the group’s “extreme” beliefs.

The senators asked Buescher whether he was aware the group opposed gay marriage and abortion when he joined it. Both of these stances are Catholic doctrine and have been for centuries.

The Democrats’ increasingly open use of religious tests reflects a growing hostility toward faith and tradition on the left, as many progressives have taken up the mantle of separation of church and state to squeeze religion out of public life — and even attack private citizens over their faith. In practice, Democrats — in the name of separation of church and state — are working to replace one set of values their own progressive, secular ones.

Contrary to the aspersions cast by progressives about faith clashing with public weal, Thomas questioned whether oaths mean anything to atheist judges, since they don’t recognize a higher authority than the law they are trusted to interpret.

“I think it’s interesting in a profession where we all take an oath, that they would look at people who have strong faith as somehow not good people, when, if you’re an atheist, what does an oath mean?” Thomas asked.

As Democrats ratchet up religious tests to impose their own progressive beliefs on everyone else, it is more important than ever to have judges like Thomas who are willing to defend religious freedom.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.