Kennedy to Barr: Does your Catholicism disqualify you from office?

Does the dogma live loudly within William Barr? This exchange between the Attorney General nominee and Sen. John Kennedy comes as close to fireworks as anything seen in the two days of Barr’s confirmation hearing, and it’s not aimed at Barr at all. Instead, the Louisiana Republican put two of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members in the crosshairs with questions to Barr over his Catholicism.

“Do you think that disqualifies you from serving in the United States government?” Kennedy asked. “Some of my colleagues think it might.” The exchange starts just past the 3-minute mark:

Barr, a practicing Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus, was asked by Sen. Joe [sic] Kennedy (R-LA) if he were Catholic and what this meant.

“You’re a Roman Catholic, are you not?” asked Kennedy. After Barr confirmed that he was, Kennedy then asked him if he thought that this “disqualified” him from having a position in the U.S. government.

“Some of my colleagues think it might,” Kennedy added. Barr replied that if he were the attorney general, he would “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

Kennedy’s question appeared to reference the recent controversy that erupted following a CNA report that Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) questioned judicial nominee Brian Buescher about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, which they described as an organization with “extreme views” that are “opposed to marriage equality” and “women’s reproductive rights.”

Nor was that the last word on the subject of Catholicism, the Knights of Columbus, and the imposition of a de facto religious test for federal appointments. Sen. Ben Sasse cited attacks on the KoC by two Senate Democrats — Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono — and accused them and others of attempting back-door religious tests on Catholics. “This is the kind of garbage,” Sasse declared, “that was thrown at another member of this body — John F. Kennedy — sixty years ago when he was campaigning for the presidency.”

Sasse introduced a Sense of the Senate resolution to rebuke attempts to disparage the Knights of Columbus and Catholicism, challenging senators to demonstrate their allegiance to the Constitution and their oaths of office. It later passed without objection:

On Wednesday the Senate approved a resolution that rebuked two Democratic senators for questioning judicial nominees about their membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.

The resolution, introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), affirmed “the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the Constitution of the United States.” The Senate proceeded to affirm the resolution without objection. …

“If a senator has a problem with this resolution, you’re probably in the wrong line of work because this is what America is. This is a super basic point, no religious test. If someone has a problem with this resolution, what other parts of the Constitution are you against: freedom of the press, women’s right to vote, freedom of speech? This isn’t hard. No religious test for serving on the federal bench. We should, in this body, rebuke these anti-Catholic attacks,” Sasse said.

And so they did, but don’t expect this to go away. The issue may not have come to the forefront with Barr, whose term of office has at least some final endpoint — two years or six years, depending on Trump’s re-election chances and his mercurial pleasure. Thanks to the need to defend the Democratic sacrament of abortion, however, the same people who got rebuked yesterday (and who quietly went along with it) will continue to fight to keep practicing Catholics out of the judiciary. We have not heard the last about the loudness of dogmas or from the Know-Nothing caucus.

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