Twice-Told Tale

The Constitution makes it clear: There is no religious test for political office in the United States. Our Founders wanted the door to government office to be open to anyone who is qualified, regardless of his wealth, social standing–or religious faith.

And so it’s unsettling, to say the least, that Clarence Thomas, nominee for the Supreme Court, has been attacked because of his religion.

The nation first learned about Judge Thomas’s religious background when he stood on the president’s lawn and thanked his grandparents and his mother … and the nuns who had taught him in school.

That’s all it took. Immediately, America’s new breed of religious censors took to their soapboxes. Virginia Governor Doug Wilder publicly wondered whether Thomas’s views would be dictated by the pope. (He later offered a lame apology.) A spokeswoman for the National Organization for Women called the judge’s Catholic upbringing “very, very frightening.”

It looked like open season on Catholics.

Columnist Ellen Goodman defended the Catholic-bashers. It isn’t their fault, she wrote. It’s the Catholic Church’s fault for taking such an uncompromising stand on issues like abortion.

But what has the Catholic Church done? It’s simply professed belief in what it has always believed. Historic, classic orthodoxy.

Its offense is simply being the Church.

What Ellen Goodman obviously wants–along with millions of others, I’m afraid–is a church that bends and blows in the breeze. In her mind, a church that speaks out for its historic confession is bigoted, narrow, out of touch with the modern world.

There’s an irony here that you shouldn’t miss. In 1962 the Bishop of New Orleans denied the sacraments to a legislator who supported segregation. He was roundly applauded in the New York Times and the rest of the liberal media. What a courageous act. And during the civil rights movement, Church leaders joined in acts of civil disobedience to support rights for blacks. Again there was loud applause.

But today when the Church speaks out for protection of life in the womb, the accolades give way to outrage. In the secular world, what’s honored in one context as moral conviction is condemned in another context as bigotry and authoritarianism.

What’s somewhat amusing in all this is that Judge Thomas now attends a lively Episcopal Church just outside the capital. But Catholic, Protestant–that makes no difference to his detractors. Because his real offense is to belong to any church that stands for biblical truth–any church that holds to moral absolutes.

And that is something that offends the reigning goddess of American society: Tolerance. Tolerance defined as complete license to do whatever we want to do. Without some church raising awkward and embarrassing questions–like: Are you sure it’s right?

Anyone asking those questions is immediately shut down. People talk about religious bigotry as a great danger to civil society. What they overlook is that secular bigotry can be just as bad. The very people who preach tolerance want to muzzle anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

As a boy, Clarence Thomas had to stand up to racism and bigotry because of the color of his skin. Today he faces bigotry because of his religion.

What a sad irony that the very people who set themselves up as the defenders of liberty–who proudly wear the title liberal–have made this man a victim of bigotry twice over.

This is the second in a seven part series on Clarence Thomas.


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