A recent commentary in the Journal Times charged that Senators Feinstein and Harris erred in asking whether a judge with Catholic faith could faithfully uphold U.S. laws.
Article VI of the Constitution maintains that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Hence, religious faith — or lack thereof — does not, by itself, bar persons from public office. However, a voter may consider the faith of a candidate when casting a vote.
The issue is complicated. Do judges owe primary allegiance to their religious faith or to their public oath of office if an issue arises wherein the two come into conflict? In a 1998 Law Review article, Amy Barrett, Professor of Law at Notre Dame and recently nominated for a lifetime seat on a Federal Appeals Court, asserted: “We believe that Catholic judges (if they are faithful to the teachings of their church) are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty.” Hence faith, at times, should trump U.S. law. Could this principle also apply to Catholic Supreme Court justices in cases involving abortion? Should such judges recuse themselves in such cases?
Of course, elected officials or judges may not hold a sincere religious faith in spite of their utterances. Hypocrisy is not particularly rare. And some may not take their oath of office seriously. Swearing on oath with a hand on a Holy Book may too often be an empty ritual or a photo op.
Wayne Johnson, Racine