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US Fact check: 'Kingdom of God' comment by SCOTUS contender Amy Coney Barrett is missing context in meme

14:20  25 september  2020
14:20  25 september  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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The claim: Amy Coney Barrett opposes the separation of church and state and wants to build a 'Kingdom of God' in the United States

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has set up what is likely to be a contentious battle over her replacement, with many closely examining the views of her potential successors.

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One of President Donald Trump's leading contenders, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, has especially come under scrutiny.

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“Al Qaeda & ISIS just issued a statement saying their end goal is to end separation of church and state & build a 'Kingdom of God' in the United States. Oh, my bad, that was Amy Coney Barrett, the judge at the top of Trump’s list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” one viral tweet shared to Instagram and Reddit reads.

Bryan Dawson, who originally posted the tweet, cited several of Barrett's past actions and statements, including a 2006 commencement speech which Barrett gave at Notre Dame.

"As a Catholic who thinks religious liberty is best protected by keeping government out of religion, I prefer judges who serve the Constitution," Dawson said.

USA TODAY has also reached out to the users who posted Dawson's tweet to Instagram and Reddit for comment.

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The posts' sentiment reflects some criticisms of the judge, whom many have accused of wanting to end the separation of church and state or otherwise letting her faith guide her jurisprudence.

Barrett, a devout Catholic, has never publicly said that she opposes the separation of church and state. The widely cited reference to Barrett encouraging a “Kingdom of God” is taken out of context.

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Amy Coney Barrett’s religious and judicial views

Barrett is a conservative and a favorite among the religious right. Trump appointed Barrett to a be a federal appeals court judge in 2017, and she has since ruled in over 100 cases.

She has previously been criticized by some on the left for her religious views, with some liberal critics fearing that her beliefs would override her judicial impartiality.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illin., a fellow Catholic, pressed Barrett on her use of the term "devout Catholic" in an article she co-wrote as a law student.

“I’m a product of 19 years of Catholic education. And every once in a while, Holy Mother the Church has not agreed with a vote of mine. And (she) has let me know,” Durbin told Barrett. “You use a term in that article — or you both use a term in that article — I’d never seen before. You refer to "orthodox Catholics." What’s an orthodox Catholic?" Durbin asked.

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Barrett admitted it was "an imperfect term" after which Durbin asked Barrett if she considered herself an orthodox Catholic.

"If you're asking whether I take my faith seriously and I'm a faithful Catholic, I am," Barrett responded. "Although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge."

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Separately, Barrett also replied to a direct question about judges and faith from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, saying it was "never appropriate to impose a judge's personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law."

In 1998, soon after finishing law school, Barrett co-authored an article titled “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases,” which ultimately concluded, “that Catholic judges (if they are faithful to the teaching of their church) are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty.”

That same article determined that for Catholic judges who were morally incapable of enforcing capital punishment, “the proper response is to recuse oneself.”

The article includes a footnote that points to other legal scholarship making a similar argument about recusal in abortion cases.

The article also defended the idea that judges should be allowed to have an “ideological bias” on the basis that all judges have some inclinations or leanings and that some are sometimes even selected for their ideological biases.

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“Justice (Thurgood) Marshall was chosen by Lyndon Johnson precisely because he was a hero in the fight for racial equality. It would be odd if those principles kept him from sitting in school desegregation cases, even if they made his judgments fairly predictable,” the article reads.

“Judges cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church's moral teaching whenever the two diverge. They should, however, conform their own behavior to the Church's standard. Perhaps their good example will have some effect,” Barrett and her co-author ultimately conclude.

Barrett, who was a law clerk to and mentee of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, is also a textualist and originalist. She has written articles expressing criticisms and reservations about the role of precedent and principle of stare decisis,suggesting only a handful of cases in American history are beyond reconsideration.

In her short time as a judge, Barrett has issued a number of conservative rulings that illustrate her views on guns, abortion, sexual assault and immigration.

Barrett, a longtime faculty member at Notre Dame Law School, is a member of the university’s Faculty for Life group. She signed a 2015 letter to Catholic bishops affirming the “value of human life from conception to natural death.”

Barrett is a member of People of Praise, a majority-Catholic group that adopts many aspects of the Charismatic Catholic Renewal movement common among evangelical Christians.

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Barrett’s comments and the 'Kingdom of God'

Barrett’s comments about building the “Kingdom of God” trace back to a 2006 commencement speech she gave at Notre Dame Law School.

She encouraged the graduating class to “keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and as Father Jenkins told you this morning, that end is building the kingdom of God.”

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Barrett then encouraged the students to adopt three habits that would help them maintain their Catholic faith after graduation. These included praying to God before deciding whether to take a new job; tithing one’s salary to the church or a charity; and finding Catholic friends and a parish wherever graduates intended to move.

The phrase “Kingdom of God” is a common refrain among Christians throughout history. In the Bible, the phrase is most often used by Jesus to describe the state in which God reigns in heaven or in which his will is enacted on Earth.

Christian sects and scholarly work differ on interpretations of the phrase, with some claiming that it is a perpetual state sought after on Earth while others claim it is something that can only arise after Judgment Day.

Regardless, in the context of the speech, Barrett was not arguing for an end to the separation of church and state, but rather for their Catholic faith to play a central role in the lives of the graduates she was addressing.

“I think you will find, when you enter the legal profession, that most of your colleagues, by default or by design, treat the legal profession as an end in and of itself,” Barrett said.

“Don’t let that happen to you; set your sights higher than that. No matter how exciting any career is, what is it really worth if you don’t make it part of a bigger life project to know, love, and serve the God who made you?” Barrett also emphasized.

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Church and state meet judges and faith

Underlying claims about whether Barrett opposes the separation of church and state is the question of whether judges can separate their religious views from their judicial decisions.

Barrett, in her 1998 article and elsewhere, has said judges should conform to civil law but also that judges should be expected to have personal values that may influence their rulings.

“Whether someone is Catholic, or Jewish, or Evangelical, or Muslim or has no faith at all is irrelevant to the job of a judge and it’s unconstitutional to consider it a qualification for office,” Barrett said in 2019, while speaking to the Washington campus of Hillsdale College. “Most people have moral convictions whether or not they come from faith.”

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Barrett has made clear that her faith guides much of her life, but USA TODAY  did not find any instance where she explicitly calls for a weakening of the separation of church and state or for the constitutional principle to be done away with.

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Our rating: Missing context

Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a deeply religious person who holds conservative  views about the law and the task of adjudicating cases. Barrett has also said it should be permissible for judges to have ideological biases when deciding cases. During a 2006 speech, she did speak about bringing about the "Kingdom of God," but – in context – she was not referring to ending the separation of church and state. We also found no evidence that Barrett has ever directly advocated for an end to the bedrock principle of separation of church and state. We rate this claim MISSING CONTEXT.

Our fact-check sources:

  • The Independent, Sept. 22, ‘The dogma lives loudly in you’: Dianne Feinstein’s grilling of Trump SCOTUS frontrunner for her devout catholicism goes viral
  • Amy C. Barrett & John H. Garvey, 1998, Catholic Judges in Capital Cases, 81 Marq. L. Rev. 303
  • Reuters, Sept. 20, Notable opinions of U.S. Supreme Court contender Amy Coney Barrett
  • Washington Post, Sept. 20, Amy Coney Barrett, potential Supreme Court nominee, wrote influential ruling on campus sexual assault
  • USA TODAY, Sept. 19, Front-runner for Supreme Court nomination to replace Ginsburg is a favorite of religious conservatives
  • Catholic News Agency, Sept. 19, 'Dogma lives loudly in you' - Amy Coney Barrett's 2017 confirmation hearing
  • C-SPAN, Sept. 6, 2017, Judicial and Justice Department Pending Nominations
  • Amy C. Barrett, 2003, Stare Decisis and Due Process, 74 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1011
  • Amy C. Barrett, 2013, Precedent and Jurisprudential Disagreement, 91 Tex. L. Rev. 1711
  • New York Times, Sept. 28, 2017, Some Worry About Judicial Nominee’s Ties to a Religious Group
  • Reuters, Sept. 22, As U.S. Supreme Court nomination looms, a religious community draws fresh interest
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed Sept. 24, Kingdom of God
  • Christianity Today, Sept. 21, 2020, The Kingdom of God and the Supreme Court of the United States
  • Christianity.com, Jan 30, 2019, What Is the Kingdom of God? Understanding Its Meaning
  • Bloomberg Tax, Sept. 22, Barrett’s Front-Runner Supreme Court Status Renews Faith Debate
  • USA TODAY, Sept. 18, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Second woman on Supreme Court had been nation's leading litigator for women's rights
  • USA TODAY, Sept. 19, Front-runner for Supreme Court nomination to replace Ginsburg is a favorite of religious conservatives

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: 'Kingdom of God' comment by SCOTUS contender Amy Coney Barrett is missing context in meme


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