Higher authority

Ed Williams, editorialist at the Charlotte Observer, asks what I’ve been wondering on John Roberts and the Catholic Church:

I wonder what the Catholic bishops who objected to John Kerry’s separation of religion from politics are thinking now that President Bush has nominated John Roberts for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some bishops favored denying communion to Kerry because of his support for abortion rights. Some even suggested that it’s a Catholic public official’s duty to work to make the law reflect the church’s position on abortion.

Roberts, described by friends as a devout Catholic, could someday be in a position to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights decision. If he were given the opportunity and declined to do so, would these bishops favor denying him communion? Would that possibility affect his service on the court? Surely some senator will ask.

It is a question that should be asked and answered. If a justice or a president said that they answered to a higher (human) authority, then we not selecting them but the person they obey.

Williams quotes at length John Kennedy’s speech on religion from the 1960 campaign:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; 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….

I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office….

I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none….

I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views — in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.

Quite the litmus test.