Archbishop Kurtz calls for end to ‘religious test’ for judicial nominees

WASHINGTON—The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty called on the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee to end a line of questioning for judicial nominees at confirmation hearings that involves their religious faith.

This type of questioning “amounts to a religious test” for serving in office, is unconstitutional and in recent hearings for Catholic nominees discriminates against them for their religion, said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.

He made the comments in a Feb. 4 letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, ranking member.

Archbishop Kurtz described “recent incidents of religious intolerance displayed” by committee members.

“In recent months,” he said, “multiple nominees to the federal judiciary have been interrogated about their membership in the Knights of Columbus, with the implication that participation in the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the country — a respected organization that has accomplished so much good for over a century — could be disqualifying. To call out the Knights of Columbus for derision is simply appalling.”

One of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees who has faced such biased questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee was Brian Buescher, a Catholic nominated for a judgeship for the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.

During his confirmation hearing last November, committee member Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, expressed concern about Buescher being a member of the Knights of Columbus because of the organization’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

She criticized the Knights for being “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men.”

Another Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the fraternal organization “has taken a number of extreme positions” and asked Buescher: “If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias?”

With a number of confirmation hearings coming up for Trump’s judicial picks, “I ask the committee to soundly reject any attempt to impose a religious test on nominees,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “The committee — and every senator — has a constitutional obligation to do so.”

He emphasized that his concern about such a religious test extends beyond the Catholic Church.

“Historically, Jewish and Muslim, as well as Catholic and other leaders, have faced discrimination and sometimes outright persecution as they have sought to serve in public office,” the archbishop wrote. “Not only are religious tests unconstitutional and unjust, they are an attack on all people of faith and those with no faith at all.

“Religious tests tell not only Catholics, but all Americans, that they cannot both serve their country and live out their convictions,” he said.

This “highly pluralistic” country also is “highly polarized” right now, he added. “Imposing religious tests on judicial nominees deepens the divides in this country and fosters resentment. A religious test says, ‘You do not belong here. You are not a true American.'”

Archbishop Kurtz added: “Senators should be working to navigate our country through these tumultuous times, not intensifying the waves. I implore you: End these discriminatory questions and refrain from further imposing religious tests on judicial nominees.”


CNS photo/Bob Roller: Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, speaks from the floor Nov. 14 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.