Lankford Denounces Attacks on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Faith
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today addressed the Senate with an impassioned affirmation of the US Constitution’s protections for all Americans to have a faith and live that faith or have no faith at all, especially amid rising concerns that the Catholic faith of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, somehow disqualifies her from being able to serve on the bench. During her previous Senate confirmation proceedings toward becoming a federal Judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, Lankford also stood in support of Judge Barrett’s ability to live her faith.
We are once again in a conversation about freedom of religion and the free exercise of religion and what that means. Very simply, I would argue that it means the ability to have any faith, to have no faith at all, to change your faith, and to be able to live it out. The ability to have a faith that’s a part of who we are. It’s our most precious possession within us. It’s not that. If it’s something less than that, if the free exercise of religion has limitations on it, then it’s simply the freedom to worship or to have a named faith around you but not to actually live your faith, but that’s not what we have in this country, thankfully. We have a constitutionally protected right to the free exercise of religion. We have more than the freedom of worship at the place of our choosing. We have the ability to live our faith freely, seven days a week, in all aspects of our lives.
The question has become though, ‘are there positions in public life where you cannot have the free exercise of religion.’ Where literally, if you are elected or appointed in certain offices you lose your constitutional right. The United States Constitution makes that very very clear. In Article 6 of the Constitution says there is no religious test that should ever be required as a qualification in any office, public trust under the United States. Should be pretty straightforward and clear. In our last confirmation hearing, then-professor Amy Coney Barrett said, when asked a question about her faith, ‘Senator, I see no conflict between having a sincerely held faith and my duties as a judge. In fact, we have many judges both state and federal across the country who have sincerely held religious views and still impartially and honestly discharged that I obligations as a judge, and if I were confirmed as a judge, I would decide cases according to rule of law, beginning to end, and in rare circumstances that might ever rise, and I can’t imagine one sitting here now, where I felt I had some conscientious objection to the law, I would recuse.’ Three years ago, like today, Judge Barrett’s faith, not her judicial philosophy, her temperament seems to be front and center.
Three years ago, my colleague from California, Senator Dianne Feinstein, said this during Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing. ‘Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that, you know, dogma and law are two different things, and I think whatever religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different, and I think in your case, professor, when I read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.’ Senator Durbin from Illinois just asked her a very straightforward question. ‘Do you consider yourself an orthodox catholic?’ Questions like that about defining the faith and how much of a catholic are you or how much dogma lives new is really a question of how much faith do you really practice? Do you have a name on you, or do you practice a little too much faith for my comfort level?
See, the free exercise of religion pertains to an individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs. It’s not about the acceptance of that belief by others. If it were, the free exercise of religion would be dictated by what others believe rather than what you believe. But in America—at least the America that I know—individuals are allowed to have a faith, live their faith, have no faith, or change their faith. And for whatever reason, Judge Amy Coney Barret is being criticized because she is Catholic. There’s an AP article that came out just this week that did an in-depth view and was sent all over the country, an in-depth view that ‘she’s not just Catholic; she’s one of those Catholics.’ And went into great detail about how she attends bible studies and is on the board of a school and helps educate children, and seems to believe that there is a personal relationship with Jesus as they quoted in the article. As if that is some sort of criminal thing and needs to have some suspicion. It’s about her faith that she’s being challenged in this undercurrent.
However, Justice Ginsburg was not shy about the fact that she was Jewish, nor should she be. We have heard a lot about the fact that she was the longest serving Jewish justice and the first Jewish person to lie in state in the Capitol. Why is it okay for Justice Ginsburg to talk about her faith and not Judge Barrett? Why is Justice Ginsburg’s faith celebrated and Judge Barrett’s faith is currently being demonized? It’s because those on the left believe their faith is okay, but for people on the right, it’s suspicious. Even last night, Vice President Biden introduced himself as an Irish Catholic. And that’s celebrated on the left, but for Judge Barrett to identify herself as a Catholic, she is asked questioningly, ‘Yeah, but are you one of those Orthodox Catholics?’
One of the most remembered things about Justice Ginsburg, of many, was her storied friendship with Justice Scalia. On paper, they would be the unlikeliest of friends. She was a Jewish liberal. He was a Catholic conservative. Their differences didn’t divide them or offend each other. Of their friendship, Judge Barrett said, ‘Particularly poignant to me was the—‘her meaning Justice Ginsburg—‘as her long and deep friendship with Justice Scalia, my own mentor.’ Justice Scalia and Ginsburg disagreed fiercely in print without rancor in person. Their ability to maintain a warm and rich friendship despite their differences even inspired an opera. These two great Americans demonstrated that arguments, even about matters of great consequence, need not destroy affection.’ There’s no question that Justice Ginsburg did a lot for the advancement of women in this country. Doesn’t Judge Barrett also exemplify that? ]
She is a Circuit Court Judge. She graduated summa cum laude from Notre Dame Law School, first in her class. She has been a professor for 15 years at Notre Dame, clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, mother of seven children, three times voted as the top law professor at Notre Dame. Thirty-four Supreme Court Clerks that worked alongside Barrett of all parties wrote this, ‘We are democrats, republicans, and independents. And we have a diverse points of view on politics, judicial philosophy, and much else, yet we all write to support the nomination of Professor Barrett to be a Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Professor Barrett is a woman of remarkable intellect and character. She is imminently qualified for the job.’
All 49 faculty members, that are the full-time faculty members at Notre Dame Law School, all 49 of them, all of them signed, a letter stating ‘Barrett possesses an abundance of all the other qualities that shaped extraordinary jurists, discipline, intellect, wisdom, impeccable temperament, and above all fundamental decency and humanity.’ Seventy-three law professors across the country, including former Obama Administration Solicitor General Neal Katyal stated this, ‘Although we have different perspectives on the methods and conclusions in her work, we all agree that Professor Barrett’s contributions to legal scholarship are rigorous, fair-minded, respectful, and constructive.’ So she’s criticized tenaciously because of her faith. She’s criticized because she’s not woman enough and whatever that may mean. She has even been criticized this past week and called a white colonizer. Two of her seven children were adopted from Haiti. She has been accused of using her children as props. How low can this go?
This is what Judge Barrett had to say about her family, ‘The President has asked me to become the ninth justice, and as it happens, I’m used to being in a group of nine, my family. Our family includes me, my husband, Jessie, Emma, Vivian, Tess, John Peter, Liam, Julia, and Benjamin. Vivian and John Peter, as the President said, were born in Haiti, and they came to us five years apart when they were very young. The most revealing fact about Benjamin, our youngest, is that his brothers and sisters unreservedly identify him as their favorite sibling. Our children,” she said, “our children obviously make our life very full. While I’m a Judge, I’m better known back home as a parent, carpool driver, birthday party planner. When schools went remote last spring, I tried on another hat. Jessie’—That is her husband, Jessie—‘and I became co-principals of the Barrett e-Learning Academy. And yes, the list of enrolled students was a very long. Our children are my greatest joy, even though they deprive me of any reasonable amount of sleep.”
Judge Barrett has even been criticized in her faith and being criticized in her relationship in her family. Judge Barrett said about her husband and her family, ‘I could not have managed this very full life without the unwavering support of my husband, Jesse. At the start of our marriage, I imagined that we would run our household as partners. As it’s turned out, Jesse does far more than his share of the work. To my chagrin, I learned at dinner recently that my children consider him to be the better cook. For 21 years, Jesse has asked me every single morning what he can do for me that day. And though I almost always say nothing, he still finds ways to take things off my plate. And that’s not because he has a lot of free time. He has a very busy law practice. It’s because he is a superb and generous husband, and I am very fortunate.’
Her faith, her family—why are we doing personal attacks on a qualified candidate for the supreme court of the United States? First in her class. Recognized by the faculty as superior. Recognized by Judges and leaders across the country as qualified. Why are we into this conversation? September 29, an article from NPR was entitled ‘Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholicism is controversial but may not be a confirmation issue.’ The article said, ‘Never before has the Court been so dominated by one religious denomination’—that is Catholics—‘it is legitimate for Senators to be concerned about whether the court is reflecting the diversity of faith in the United States. Wow. Now it’s maybe we have too many Catholics? Maybe this is one too many and Senators should consider the greater diversity.
As odd as it sounds, the article didn’t identify the fact that Amy Coney Barrett would be the only justice not to have graduated from Harvard or Yale. There doesn’t seem to be a desire to have a diversity of opinion or background on that. It’s just about this one area, her faith. Imposing a religious test on Supreme Court Justices is not only antithetical to the constitution, it’s a very slippery slope, and it’s one we have been down before, and I thought we had cleared.
In 1960, 1960, then-candidate John F. Kennedy stood in front of a group of ministers in Houston, Texas, who were concerned about having a catholic president because we as a country had never had a catholic president, and there were all these rumors and innuendos out there that the president would work for the pope. So in 1960, JFK stood in Houston, Texas, and spoke to a group of ministers and made this statement. He said, ‘I believe in an America where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. For while this year it may be 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.’
It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril. JFK said this, ‘Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equal, where every man has the right to the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc-voting of any kind and where Catholics, protestants, Jews, at the lay and pastoral level will refrain from the attitudes of disdain and division which has so often marred the works of the past and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood. This is the kind of America I believe in and it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe a great office which must never be humbled by any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrary withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed on him by the nation nor imposed on him by the nation as with holding that office. I would not look with favor upon the president or in this case I would say, a judge, working to subvert the first amendment’s guarantees of religious liberties. Nor would a system of checks and balances permit him to do so. Neither would I look those who would look to Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test even by indirection. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.’
We are a nation that celebrates faith, that recognizes faith as a unifying factor even in a diversity of faith. I’ve had the privilege, and many of us have, to be able to pray with each other. We are Senators of different faiths, different backgrounds, different places. And we work to treat each other with respect. Faith is not something that Americans should demand nor the Senate should demand that people have to take off to be able to serve the American people. We don’t take our faith off. It’s not a Jersey that we wear on the outside; it is the core of who are on the inside. That’s not something that you just take off to put on public service. You put on public service but your core faith should not be challenged to be removed from your soul to be a viable person to be able to serve in the court. Let’s work on our concept of religious liberty. Whether you’re a Christian, whether you’re a Muslim, whether you’re a Buddhist or a Hindu, you can be a great American and you can serve this great country in any location that you choose because we are a nation that honors and protects the right of the free exercise of religion.