University of Michigan graduate students go on illegal strike with rally

Opinion: Religious bigotry on display in the Barrett hearings and elsewhere

Emilie Kao

Much has been said about how senators applied unconstitutional religious tests to Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation to the 7th Circuit — and again during the hearings on her Supreme Court nomination. 

But little has been said about the harm these displays of religious prejudice inflict on our culture — or where they can lead.  

When a high-ranking official challenges a citizen’s ability to serve simply because of her religious identity, beliefs or affiliations, it demonstrates that anti-religious bigotry is acceptable. This should not be the case in America or anywhere.  

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

And yet around the world religious minorities and those whose views don’t conform to prevailing orthodoxies face double standards when getting an education and applying for work.  

These double standards don’t appear overnight, however. Attacks on religious freedom progress in four distinct stages: 

►Social marginalization 

►Economic discrimination

►Legal (including criminal penalties)

►Violence, either by vigilantes or the state

Religious discrimination can happen to any group anywhere. In Burma, long before there was genocide against Rohingya Muslims, they faced discrimination when applying for jobs and were subjected to abuse on social media. The Buddhist nationalist military and political elite demonized them and fostered hatred against them.  

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, official and social prejudice keeps religious minorities at the bottom of the economic hierarchy doing the “dirty jobs.” Advertisements for sewer cleaners state that only Christians need apply. 

That’s not the case in the U.S.

Still, in recent years, the U.S. has seen the rapid spread of intolerance towards those who hold traditional religious beliefs, especially on life, sexual orientation and gender identity. While the U.S. still has robust legal prohibitions on religious discrimination, it has moved rapidly from the first stage of attack (social marginalization) to economic discrimination.  

Not only is there widespread censorship of socially conservative viewpoints on social media, there is virulent hostility in education. According to one conservative student quoted in an opinion piece for The Hill, teachers ”seek to silence us, to punish us, which deliberately lowers our GPA, which adversely affects the chances of us getting into college and, therefore, a better job and a better life.”  

In one telling example at UC Berkeley, a Christian student leader was denounced with expletives and insults by classmates for three hours because she declined to support a resolution endorsing gender fluidity. 

People in diverse fields have been threatened with losing their jobs because of their beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity, including firefighters, pilots, teachers, entertainers, tech CEOs and T-shirt printers.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy characterized the original view of marriage as rooted in “decent and honorable” premises and pledged that the court did not disparage the view or its supporters. 

But only two years later, during Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Justice Sonya Sotomayor told Jack Phillips, who would have had to violate his conscience, to create a cake for a same-sex marriage: “Then don't participate in weddings.” According to her, only those who conform to the new orthodoxy should be allowed to participate in the marketplace. 

Seen in this light, the senators’ intense scrutiny of nominees’ beliefs are even more concerning. During Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings to the 7th Circuit, Sen. Dianne Feinstein told her that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Sen. Dick Durbin questioned whether she was an “orthodox Catholic.”  

Judge Barrett hasn’t been the only target. 

Sen. Kamala Harris grilled another nominee about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization that espouses traditional marriage, suggesting that it made him unfit to be a judge. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse asked still another nominee about his church’s position regarding the “God-given roles of father and mother.”  

The message is clear: The “wrong” religious beliefs, activities and affiliations could jeopardize a nominee’s professional future. 

In response, Sen. Mike Lee challenged his colleagues’ attempts to impose a new “secular progressive creed” with its own heresies. The only appropriate tests for office should be a nominee’s political orthodoxy — whether they profess fidelity to the Constitution — and have the necessary experience and credentials. 

Double standards strike at the heart of the American creed, the belief that all citizens are created equal and that the government may not establish any orthodoxy (religious or secular). The Founders included Article VI’s ban on religious tests in the Constitution because they knew the bitter sting of discrimination — those outside of the Church of England were banned from holding office by the 17th century Test Acts.  

No one should be forced to choose between their faith and their livelihood. Religious freedom enables people of all creeds to flourish in education and in the workplace. This great and revolutionary idea made America truly pluralistic.  

To ensure that America does not regress, citizens should call out economic discrimination on the basis of religion for what it is — before it becomes something worse. 

Emilie Kao is director of the DeVos Center on Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. She wrote this for