Law and religion prof defends Amy Coney Barrett's religion

Inazu pushed back on assertions that the professor’s religion should be “front and center,” as other academics have suggested.

John Inazu, a professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, says that Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s religious affiliations should not be a confirmation issue.

A Washington University Law and Religion professor is defending Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s religious affiliation and asserting that her Christianity should not be an issue that impacts her confirmation.

John Inazu, the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law & Religion and a Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis, commented on the recent attacks on the religion of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Pundits, politicians, and academics have critiqued Barrett for her Catholic faith, specifically for being a member of the group the People of Praise.

For example, Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, wrote in his Politico op-ed, “Why Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Beliefs Aren’t Off Limits,” that People of Praise is an “authoritarian” organization and that the group’s secretive nature is “troubling.” Faggioli also asserted, despite the Constitution’s requirement that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust,” that Barrett’s religious beliefs “need to be front and center” due to the “problem” they present.

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Inazu fundamentally disagrees with Faggioli’s assertions. In an interview with The Source, Washington University’s news publication, when asked, “Are the religious affiliation and beliefs of a Supreme Court nominee a legitimate reason to oppose the nomination,” Inazu replied, “No.”

Inazu continued, stating, “Equating religious affiliations and beliefs with judicial philosophy also misunderstands the nature of judging. For example, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Judge Barrett are both Catholics, but their judicial philosophies are quite dissimilar.”

On the issue of legitimate reasons to oppose Supreme Court nominees, Inazu stated, “It’s legitimate to oppose nominees based on jurisprudence, competence or character.”

“I support Judge Barrett’s nomination and have joined a letter by law professors urging her confirmation,” said Inazu. “I have many friends and colleagues, whom I respect greatly, who oppose her nomination on procedural or substantive grounds not having to do with religion, and I think it’s appropriate for them to do so.

Inazu noted that this fixation on Barrett’s religion is not a new one.

“Democratic senators raised inappropriate questions and comments during Judge Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s comment ‘The dogma lives loudly within you’ is the most well-known example, but other senators also badgered Judge Barrett about her faith in ways that suggested intolerance or disdain for her religious beliefs,” Inazu said.

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When asked if “the conversation would be different if she were Jewish, Muslim or Hindu,” Inazu answered “Almost certainly.” 

He added that “anyone presently weighing in against the inappropriate focus on Judge Barrett’s faith who would not do the same when it comes to similar attacks against Muslim officeholders shows their own self-interest and hypocrisy.”

Inazu ended the interview by stating that “our political process has vested far too much power in the Supreme Court, and I hope that we can work toward serious bipartisan reform proposals.”

Inazu expressed similar sentiments in a recent Newsweek op-ed, stating that he’s “pretty sure that Judge Barrett can speak for herself” and that many of the practices of the People of Praise are “entirely commonplace” in an attempt to dispel concerns that the “secret powerful voices” of the People of Praise's leadership “instruct[s] her what to do.” Inazu also implored readers to display some “empathy” and recognize “that many religious practices seem unfamiliar, weird, and even threatening to outsiders.”

“I wrote these pieces because I’m keenly interested in shifting attention away from Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs and practices unless those inquiries are directly related to her ability to fulfill the judicial office,” Inazu told Campus Reform

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Inazu said that after publishing these op-eds, he “received a smattering of negative feedback on social media, but nothing outside the ordinary.”

Inazu also addressed a possible reason for the “heightened focus” surrounding Barrett’s Religion, telling Campus Reform that, “I think a great deal of the heightened focus comes from unfamiliarity with basic religious practices by some (but by no means all) journalists and hill staffers.”

Follow the author of this article: Kyle Reynolds