Mario Cuomo on Religious Freedom: It’s Not Only for Amy Coney Barrett.

Mario Cuomo’s Notre Dame Speech Points the Way for Democrats Today.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings underway to consider the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court are shaping up to be a visceral battle over the direction of justice in this country for decades to come.

Democrats, in addition to protesting a sham process occurring while a record number of 9 million Americans have already voted in a presidential election year, are focusing on Judge Barrett’s extremist writings on the Affordable Care Act, Roe v. Wade, same sex marriage and the rights of felons to own guns.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of being anti-Catholic, despite the fact that the Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, would be, if elected, only the second Catholic to become President. JFK was the first in 1960, despite virulent opposition from conservative, non-Catholic Christians — the same bigoted voices, led by the KKK in the 1920’s, which vilified another Catholic candidate, Governor Al Smith of New York.

Yet, another Catholic Governor from New York has given Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as Joe Biden, a well-reasoned, deeply religious and constitutional blueprint for rebutting the nomination of a religious extremist, threatening to impose her narrow, out-of-the-mainstream beliefs on Americans of all faiths — including a majority of Catholics.

In fact, the latest Pew Research Center’s study on Catholic Attitudes in U.S. Politics, released one month ago, found that while registered Catholic voters are evenly divided between Republicans (48%) and Democrats (47%), 59% of Republican Catholics support Same-Sex Marriage, while 76% of Democratic Catholics do so. Even where political differences do emerge among Catholics on the issue of abortion, 77% of Democratic Catholics support Roe v. Wade, and are joined by 37% of registered Republican Catholics on the issue — a combined total that is a clear majority of mainstream Catholics, regardless of political affiliation.

Rather than avoiding the issue of Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs being so far outside even the Catholic mainstream, the arguments against just such extremism were clearly spelled out by former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, in his speech at the University of Notre Dame, in September, 1984 — the last time another pro-choice woman — a practicing Catholic — was running for Vice-President.

Cuomo’s speech, entitled “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective” is even more pertinent to today’s debate, then it was 36 years ago. He fearlessly tackles the issue of religious freedom head on:

“I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to believe as a Jew, a Protestant, or nonbeliever, or as anything else you choose. We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might someday force theirs on us. That freedom is the fundamental strength of our unique experiment in government.”

“. . . a good part of this nation understands — if only instinctively — that anything which seems to suggest that God favors a political party or the establishment of a state church is wrong and dangerous.”

“Way down deep the American people are afraid of an entangling relationship between formal religions — or whole bodies of religious belief — and government. Apart from constitutional law and religious doctrine, there is a sense that tells us it’s wrong to presume to speak for God or to claim God’s sanction of our particular legislation or his rejection of all other positions. Most of us are offended when we see religion being trivialized by its appearance in political throwaway pamphlets.”

(Had Mario Cuomo been alive today, he might have added, “or seeing religion trivialized by a politician holding up a bible in front of a church for a photo op.”)

Cuomo’s Notre Dame speech continued:

The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman. To most of us, the manipulative invoking of religion to advance a politician or a party is frightening or divisive…the American people are leery about large religious organizations, powerful churches, or synagogue groups engaging in such activities — again, not as a matter of law or doctrine, but because our innate wisdom and democratic instinct teaches us these things are dangerous.”

“When should I argue to make my religious value your morality? My rule of conduct your limitation?….I believe I have a salvific mission as a Catholic. Does that mean I am in conscience required to do everything I can as Governor to translate all my religious values into the laws and regulations of the State of New York or the United States? Or be branded a hypocrite if I don’t?. . .Must I, having heard the Pope renew the church’s ban on birth control devices, veto the funding of contraceptive programs for non-Catholics or dissenting Catholics in my state? I accept the church’s teaching on abortion. Must I insist you do? By law? By denying you Medicaid funding?”

Cuomo continued:

“. . . Catholic public officials take an oath to preserve the Constitution. . . and they do so gladly. Not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for all, they guarantee our right to be Catholic; our right to pray…

“. . . there are those who say there is a simple answer to all these questions; they say that by history and practice of our people we were intended to be — and should be — a Christian country in law. But where would that leave the nonbelievers? And whose Christianity would be law, yours or mine? The “Christian nation” argument should concern –even frighten — two groups: non-Christians and thinking Christians.”

“. . . agnostics who joined the civil rights struggle were not deterred because that crusade’s values had been nurtured and sustained in Black Christianchurches. Those on the political left are not perturbed today by the religious basis of the clergy and lay people who join them in the protest against the arms race and hunger and exploitation.”

In his brilliant summation, Mario Cuomo issued a clarion call for a complete redefinition of the “Right to Life,” emphasizing it after birth, especially in the areas of healthcare, hunger-relief, housing and education:

“Approval or rejection of legal restrictions on abortion should not be the exclusive litmus test of Catholic loyalty. We should understand that whether abortion is outlawed or not, our work has barely begun; the work of creating a society where the right to life doesn’t end at the moment of birth, where an infant isn’t helped into a world that doesn’t care it it’s fed properly, housed decently, educated adequately, where the blind or retarded child isn’t condemned to exist rather than empowered to live.”

Mario Cuomo words, and actions, empower Democrats to stand up for religious freedom, and for a real-world “Right-to-Life” that begins at birth.

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