Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Monday sternly rebuked the press and his Senate Democratic colleagues for asking questions critical of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett's faith in his opening remarks for the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.
"We've gotten to read a lot about you in the press, and in particular about your religious beliefs," Hawley said to Barrett. "One attack after another in the liberal media, one hit piece after another, many of them echoed by members of this committee."
In recent weeks, several articles were published putting the spotlight on Barrett's Catholic faith and her ties to "People of Praise," a small charismatic Christian fellowship group based in Indiana. The articles have raised questions about the group, suggesting that its Catholic doctrinal beliefs on abortion, contraception, IVF, and gender roles would have undue influence on Barrett's jurisprudence should she be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Republicans have criticized the questions as a "religious smear."
The point of the questions about Barrett's faith, Hawley surmised, is to question whether Barrett has "the independence to be a judge, a justice on the United States Supreme Court."
He called out Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who sits on the judiciary committee, for previously questioning judicial nominees about their relationships to Catholic groups:
And it's not just in the newspapers; it's members of this committee, including the Democratic nominee for vice president of the United States, who has questioned past nominees who have come before this committee about their membership in Catholic fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus. And for those watching at home, that's right, you heard me correctly, Sen. Harris and others on this committee have repeatedly questioned judicial nominees' fitness for office because of their membership in the Knights of Columbus.
Hawley also referred to ranking member and California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein's infamous "the dogma lives loudly within you" comment from Barrett's confirmation hearing for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, calling such language "the very terminology of anti-Catholic bigotry."
"Let's be clear about what this is: This is an attempt to broach a new frontier. To set up a new standard," Hawley said. "Actually, it's an attempt to bring back an old standard that the Constitution of the United States explicitly forbids. I'm talking about a religious test for office."
Hawley then cited Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States."
Now that was big news in 1787 when it was written, and it's worth remembering why. It's because no country, no republic in the history of the world had ever guaranteed to its citizens the right to freedom of conscience and religious liberty. Every other country that had ever existed tied together the religious beliefs that would be approved by the powerful and the right to serve in office, or to vote, or just to be a citizen. In every other country across history, you had to agree with what those in power agreed with in order to hold office or be a citizen in good standing. ...
So when our founders put Article VI into the Constitution of the United States, they were making a very deliberate choice. They were breaking with all of that past history and they were saying in America it would be different. In the United States of America we would not allow the ruling class to have veto power over your faith, over what Americans believed, over who we gathered with to worship, and why and where and how.
Now, in this country, the people of the United States would be free to follow their own religious convictions. Free to worship, free to exercise their religion. And people of faith would be welcome in the public sphere ... they'd be welcome without having to get the approval of those in power, like those on this committee. They would be welcome to come and to bring their religious beliefs to bear on their lives, on their office, in all that they do. So long of course as they are peaceful citizens who'd follow the law.
Religious people of all backgrounds would be welcome in public life, and no person in power would be able to control what the American people, any American citizen, thought or believed or who they worshiped. This freedom of conscience and religious liberty undergirds all of our other rights, because it tells the government that it cannot tell us what to think or who we can assemble with or how we can worship or what we can say.
Hawley pointed out that Article VI comes even before the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in the Constitution, stressing its importance. He warned that the attacks on Barrett's faith undermine the principles and liberties the Constitution was written to protect.
"This bedrock principle of American liberty is now under attack," he said. "That is what is at stake when we read these stories attacking Judge Barrett for her faith. That is what is at stake when my Democratic colleagues repeatedly question Judge Barrett and many other nominees about their religious beliefs, about their religious membership, about their religious practices, about their family beliefs and practices. That is an attempt to bring back the days of the religious test. That is an attempt to bring back the veto power of the powerful over the religious beliefs and sincerely held convictions of the American people. And that is what is at stake in this confirmation hearing."
WATCH: Sen. Josh Hawley's full opening statement in Barrett Supreme Court confirmation hearing www.youtube.com