Overview:

Justices have a right to hold religious beliefs, and we have a right to say how their religious beliefs lead to misinterpretations of law.

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Shall we pretend Amy Coney Barrett’s religion doesn’t matter on the Supreme Court?

Article VI of the Constitution says religion can never be used as a qualification for any public office in America. So, religion itself is off-limits as a criterion of merit or demerit. But can the effects of one’s religion be seen as a disqualification?

Suppose a Supreme Court Justice adheres to a religion that requires the following beliefs and practices: female circumcision of young girls, the use of psychotropic drugs, and animal sacrifice.

It would be a Justice’s right to assent to these religious beliefs and practices. We all have a right to religion. But do any of us have a right to live unencumbered by opposition to the potential effects of our religious views? All Americans would have a right to imagine how the above religious beliefs and practices might affect the interpretation of law.

Amy Coney Barrett does not hold any of the above religious beliefs and practices. But let’s consider what she likely does believe:

She has a patina of Catholicism over trowels of Protestant Pentecostalism. She has been part of the Charismatic Movement her whole life. This means she likely speaks and sings in tongues. She likely gets slain in the spirit and falls to the floor in spiritual ecstasy. She probably believes that persons in her congregation offer prophecies and direct messages from God. In all likelihood, she thinks the end of the world is near. She almost certainly tends toward biblical literalism and demurs on modern science when science appears to contradict the Bible. At her initial Senate hearings, she hoisted a fist full of semaphore flags to signal fellow religionists that she denies climate science. 

She probably follows the New Testament when it commands wives to submit to their husbands in everything. (Submit means to yield to a superior authority). Though she cannot appeal to the teachings of Jesus on capital punishment or war (because Jesus offered no teachings on these topics), in all likelihood she reverts to the Old Testament to argue the morality of those practices, and she will still call herself pro-life though she is not fully consistent with a philosophy dedicated to all living things (as perhaps only the Jains of India are). Though Coney Barrett cannot cite Jesus against gay sexuality, she probably turns to the Old Testament for anti-gay purposes. Though Matthew 6:24 records Jesus as saying,  “You cannot serve God and money,” Coney Barrett may wave that verse away as having no applicability to Republican financiers.

We may further guess that Amy Coney Barrett is completely unaware of the mountain of academic work written on religion in the last 150 years. We could bet that neither she nor her mentor Antonin Scalia ever read a syllable of this impressive literature, which would have softened their pre-modern and juvenile understanding of religion.

Amy Coney Barrett would say it’s a sin to lie, but she seemingly practices moral casuistry and believes that sometimes you have to lie to achieve a greater good.

Amy Coney Barrett would say it’s a sin to lie, but she seemingly practices moral casuistry and believes that sometimes you have to lie to achieve a greater good. She apparently perjured herself under oath to get her job, along with Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh—all of whom are on video saying during their initial hearings (job interviews before Senators) that they accepted Roe v. Wade as settled law and as precedent.

Amy Coney Barrett has a right to all her religious beliefs and practices. But we have a right to imagine how her religious beliefs and practices will affect her interpretation of law, and we may reasonably guess that her religion will lead her to numerous misinterpretations of law.

Let’s say it again. In America, we all have a right to religion. However, no one in America has a right to live unencumbered by opposition to the potential effects of their religious views, especially Supreme Court Justices.

Amy Coney Barrett’s religion does matter. It matters to all of us. It will matter for the next forty years. It matters already.

J. H. McKenna Ph.D. has taught the history of religious ideas since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and also in popular venues...