WASHINGTON – There's a dangerous tactic resurfacing in politics, mostly among lawmakers on the far left. It involves a new line of questioning coming from Democrat senators during confirmation hearings, and it has Church leaders warning lawmakers to tread carefully.
Biblical beliefs are being referred to far too often as a disqualifier for public office. In the last few years, it's happened to Trump nominees like Mike Pompeo, Amy Coney Barrett, Russell Vought, and Neomi Rao.
"The weaponization of religion means: the use and exploitation of faith for partisan political ends, in terms of political warfare," said Rev. Eugene Rivers, founder and director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.
Anti-Catholic Bigotry Hints at a Larger Problem
In December, Democrat Senators Kamala Harris, now a presidential candidate, and Hawaii's Mazie Hirono questioned a federal judicial nominee about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, the well-known Catholic service organization.
They asked Brian Buescher whether he shared the groups "extremist" values and if he would be able to judge certain cases fairly.
"They were taking shots at Catholics. It doesn't have to be the Knights of Columbus. They were taking shots at Catholics regarding pro-life and their views on marriage, OK that's the bottom line," Rev. Rivers said.
"This was a case of clear ideological bigotry, it was unfair and it is part of a larger problem that exists in this society," he continued.
Rivers says members of all faiths should defend religious liberty.
"I should be free to believe in my God or to believe in no God. But in either case, I should not be subjected to some ideological test that is used as the criteria or the basis for assessing my right to engage in public life," he said.
Faith in Politics
In 1960 democrat John F. Kennedy worked to convince Americans that he could be both a good Catholic and a good public servant.
"If this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history and in the eyes of our own people," Kennedy said during a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.
Rev. Rivers says if certain senators refuse to see the good contributions from people of faith, they should at least commit to upholding the Constitution.
US Constitution: No Religious Tests
Article 6 states: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
The Senate passed a resolution at the beginning of the year saying it would be unconstitutional to consider membership in the Knights of Columbus disqualifying criteria for public office. It passed unanimously.
"In this, we are simply reaffirming with President Kennedy, and with countless other Americans across 230 years, Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, and more. We are simply reaffirming the idea that America is big enough for disagreements," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).
In 1960, then-candidate Kennedy responded to bigotry with a warning that Rev. Rivers echoes today.
"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist," Kennedy said in his Houston speech.
"Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril," he continued.