"Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?"n
That notorious question was the hallmark of the infamous McCarthy era of American history. It was a time when there was legitimate concern about communist influence and Espionage in the United States. But that fear morphed into a kind of paranoia that resulted in virtual witch hunts that stigmatized legitimate political opinions and blacklisted people who refused to cooperate or whose names were given to the inquisitors. Fortunately, America regained its sanity, that period was soon over and—supposedly—its lessons were learned
But paranoia never really goes away, it tends to look for new targets. We're now seeing a resurgence of the McCarthy mentality in the United States Congress. But this time it's dipping into the deep well of anti-Catholicism that has been a stain on American history since the colonial era. This new wave is fixated on Church teaching on sexuality and human life, particularly our adamant rejection of abortion, contraception, and sex outside of marriage. Those positions are considered by some of our political rulers as being beyond the pale, extreme positions that must be rooted out wherever they are found. I should note too that this prejudice isn't limited to Catholics. It's also being expressed against any Christian community that holds to traditional teachings on sexuality
The trend is clear, and well-documented. It can be seen in questions that are being asked of nominees to the federal courts. Here are some examples:
- In June 2017, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) submitted written questions to a District Court nominee about his personal views on issues of same-sex marriage and abortion in light of his membership in a conservative Anglican church.
- In September 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), citing the Catholic faith of a nominee to the Seventh Circuit, said that "the dogma lives loudly with in you, and that's a concern." At the same hearing, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) asked the nominee "What's an 'orthodox Catholic'? ¦ And do you consider yourself an 'orthodox Catholic'?" Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said "I think [an article written by the nominee] is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges, and particularly with regard to Catholic judges."
- In March 2018, Senator Feinstein submitted written questions for the record to a nominee to the Seventh Circuit that noting his membership in the St. John the Cross Parish and asking about his involvement with the parish's efforts to establish a crisis pregnancy center.
- In May 2018, Senator Whitehouse submitted written questions for the record to a District Court asking about his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.
- In October 2018, Senators Feinstein, Whitehouse, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kemala Harris (D-CA) submitted written questions to a nominee to the Fourth Circuit asking about her involvement with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group.
- In November 2018, Senator Feinstein submitted written questions to a nominee to the Third Circuit about his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.
- In December 2018, Senators Hirono and Harris asked a District Court nominee questions about his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) also asked questions centering on an interview the nominee gave to an advocacy group closely identified with Evangelical Christians.
The offensive and dangerous nature of this trend can be seen in the last example. Senator Hirono's questionnaire stated that "The Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions" and then proceeded to ask numerous questions about the Knights' positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, implying that the nominee's membership in the Order was sufficient alone to show that he was unable to be neutral. She also had the audacity to ask baldly, "If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias?"n
This is anti-Catholic McCarthyism, plain and simple. It is particularly disturbing that 8 of the 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have displayed such blatant prejudice. And it especially appalling that no prominent member of the Democratic Party has breathed so much as a word of disapproval. That silence is remarkable from the party that loves to display its horror at any hint of bigotry, and that prides itself on inclusiveness
I don't have to defend the bona fides of the Knights of Columbus. I am a proud member of the Order, but the Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, said all that is necessary in his recent statement about this scandal.
Some hard questions need to be asked. Has it become dogma in the Democratic Party that membership in the Knights makes a person suspect? Or has it become dogma in the Democratic Party that anyone who believes what the Catholic Church (and many other Christian communities) teaches and believes is no longer fit to hold public office?
The question being asked in the United States Senate—for now — is, " Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Knights of Columbus?" Will it soon become, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Catholic Church?"