U.S. Rep. Luke Messer

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed distinguished University of Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals — the second highest court in the land for federal cases that come from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Barrett’s credentials, like all of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees thus far, are unmatched. Yet Democrats in the Senate delayed her confirmation for months. What’s worse, they publicly attacked Barrett for her Catholic faith.

During Barrett’s confirmation hearing, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed opposition to Barrett’s Catholicism, saying “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin questioned her ability to judge cases fairly based on her faith, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken told her bluntly, “I question your judgment.”

This bigoted line of questioning by Senate Democrats was immediately condemned. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the treatment of Barrett reminded them of a time when “anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order.”

Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins called the use of a government religious test “chilling.”

Just a few months earlier and in the same vein, Sen. Bernie Sanders took issue with the religious beliefs of Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. The Atlantic dubbed his questioning the “Bernie Sanders’ Religious Test for Christians in Public Office.”

Religious freedom is our most fundamental right, and it is being put on trial in the U.S. Senate. These attacks by Senate Democrats must be condemned, not excused or ignored. Unfortunately, Indiana’s own Sen. Joe Donnelly — who attended Notre Dame and is a practicing Catholic himself — has been remarkably silent. He simply acknowledged he would have “steered clear of that line of questioning.”

There should be no question about it. Barrett’s personal faith does not preclude her from serving on the bench. In fact, Article VI of the Constitution makes it clear, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Barrett will be a strong addition to the federal court, and our country will benefit from her expertise and temperament on the bench. Her treatment by Senate Democrats and Donnelly’s failure to speak up show a dangerous pattern.

Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

As your senator, I would not forget these words of wisdom and would never shy away from defending your First Amendment rights.

If silence in the face of religious bigotry is the best Donnelly can do, then we can do better in who we send to the U.S. Senate.

Luke Messer is a congressman representing Indiana's 6th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. The opinions are the writer's.

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