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No, Catholic Judges Should Not Recuse Themselves From Contraception Cases

Ron Lindsay, CEO of the Center for Inquiry and also an attorney, has a blog post at the CFI website asking “Should Catholic Judges Recuse Themselves from the Contraceptive Mandate Cases?” The answer is no. And frankly, he doesn’t make much of an attempt to argue for a negative answer. He seems mostly concerned with whether the RCC will consider them “good Catholics” if they don’t vote a certain way in such cases.

I believe Catholics can be good citizens. I also think Catholic judges and justices can fulfill their obligation to respect and enforce the Constitution and laws of the United States. However, I’m not sure the Catholic Church considers a judge’s oath of office to take precedence over the judge’s obligation to avoid being complicit in evil. This is troubling—because the Church has a very broad understanding of what it means to be complicit in evil…

In the past, Catholics in the U.S. have suffered from prejudice and bigotry. One of the traditional knocks against Catholics had been they did not and could not support the separation of church and state. John Kennedy, along with many other progressive Catholic politicians, did much to lay those fears to rest. They showed that support for a secular state is not incompatible with being a good Catholic.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church may now be resurrecting concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen, or at least between being a good Catholic and an impartial judge. In arguing for an extremely expansive understanding of a Catholic’s moral obligation, the Church is effectively undermining confidence in Catholic judges.

There are six Catholic justices on the Supreme Court. Can they possibly vote to uphold the contraceptive mandate? If they share their Church’s understanding of what it means to facilitate evil, I don’t see how they can.

But there is nothing unique about the contraception cases that make them of any more concern than any other case where the law conflicts with Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church has an official position in opposition to the death penalty, but 5 of the 6 Catholic justices on the Supreme Court are pro-death penalty. The church has an official position against abortion, but that has not prevented Catholic judges from upholding reproductive rights. There is no reason to think that Catholic judges will be any more or less capable of voting on the legal merits of the contraception mandate cases than they have long been in any other case that intersects with church doctrine.

Comments

  1. doublereed says

    That’s just anti-Catholic bigotry. The whole idea that they “serve two masters” or whatever. It’s old, it’s stupid, and it’s discrimination.

  2. doublereed says

    Another reason it’s stupid is that American Catholics lean liberal, while the church leans conservative.

    This only makes me further confused why anyone cares about the Pope. Clearly, Catholics don’t give a shit what the Church says, so I don’t know why anyone else does.

  3. jamessweet says

    I read Lindsay’s column as making a point about the Catholic Church’s political meddling, as opposed to actually questioning the fitness of Catholic judges. He could have been clearer, though.

  4. Artor says

    This is troubling—because the Church has a very broad understanding of what it means to be complicit in evil…

    Really? From my viewpoint, the Church has no understanding at all of what it means to be complicit in evil. This is the same Ron Lindsay involved in the WIS2 fiasco? He’s demonstrated some really shoddy thinking then and in this article. Why is he still CFI’s director?

  5. Alverant says

    You can’t make a blanket statement like that. If the judge has the habit of putting religious doctrine above secular law, then they should be removed from the bench. If they said they have a preference or strong personal belief as well as saying there should be legal exceptions for strong personal beliefs, then they should recuse themselves from such cases. But we shouldn’t assume on the basis of religion alone.

  6. gmacs says

    Reminds me of my high school government teacher, who was Catholic. When talking about the constitution and religious liberty, he told us he was upset whenever his priest would try to sway people’s votes with phrases like “Catholics who vote for pro-abortion politicians shouldn’t be allowed to receive communion.” He was very much a fan of keeping faith and government separate.

    But then… I went to a public school in a very liberal part of town.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Lindsay made the point that the continuing/increasing pressure for doctrinal conformity – whether judges yield to it or not – gives the public a very good reason to distrust Catholic magistrates (including elected officials) on general principles.

    So far (aik), Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas provide the primary examples currently in power to support that argument – not enough of a basis for sweeping generalizations. But the more the bishops attempt to apply political leverage, the stronger Lindsay’s case becomes.

  8. Michael Heath says

    doublereed:

    That’s just anti-Catholic bigotry. The whole idea that they “serve two masters” or whatever. It’s old, it’s stupid, and it’s discrimination.
    [...]
    Another reason it’s stupid is that American Catholics lean liberal, while the church leans conservative.
    This only makes me further confused why anyone cares about the Pope. Clearly, Catholics don’t give a shit what the Church says, so I don’t know why anyone else does.

    Some Catholics lean liberal, but that is not an attribute of American Catholics. Fox News is run by Catholics, it has a disproportionate number of Catholics in their prime time hours, both regular hosts like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, along with their paid hacks who act as pundits.

    The partisan Republican Catholic justices on the Supreme Court are heavily influenced by what the church’s hierarchy demands, see Lawrence v. Texas. When given a choice between church and state, they frequently choose church; unless it’s not politically popular with conservatives in general where Christianists have clearly prioritized conservative politics over their holy dogma (death penalty, welfare for the “least among us”).

    When Obamacare was close to being passed, my U.S. Representative Bart Stupak, a devout Catholic who was also the lynchpin of getting Obamacare passed, openly admitted on Chris Matthews show on MSNBC that he got his directions from the Catholic bishops on abortion policy. The bishops were the ones holding up Obamacare, where they had a loyal soldier in Bart Stupak, who also thumbed his nose at the nuns in that same interview.

    CNN’s exit polls had 50% of Catholics voting for President Obama and 48% for Mitt Romney. It was 57% for Romney to 42% for Obama for those Catholics who attended church weekly. Cite for both: http://www.cnn.com/election/2012/results/race/president

    It’s not bigotry to point out that many Catholics, just like many evangelicals, fundies, and Mormons, put church ahead of state, at the expense of our constitutional rights. These Christianists expect and demand the government put policies in place supportive of their holy dogma that infringes on the rights of people outside their religion that don’t agree. It’s not bigotry to point these facts out and criticize those Catholics who demonstrate this contemptible behavior.

    It’s not bigotry to consider and debate judicial recusals for those judges on matters where they’ve clearly expressed a position motivated by their religion which is also a direct violation of the Constitution. Such debates puts them on notice, it informs the public, and it reveals these emperors have no clothes. It leads to a more informed electorate in better touch with church-state issues.

  9. CSB says

    @7: On the other hand, ignoring the Pope is pretty much the official pastime of American Catholics.

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