Conservative Christian advocates faced new attacks this week just as several religious liberty controversies are speeding through the judiciary en route to the Supreme Court.
The conservative Christian advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom came under fire from Democratic Sen. Al Franken this week, as ADF's lawyers are preparing to argue a blockbuster religious liberty controversy before the Supreme Court. ADF will represent a Colorado baker whose refusal to design and make a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage is one of the coming term's highest profile cases, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
During Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week on Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Franken said Barrett's decision to speak to ADF was irresponsible. The Minnesota Democrat said ADF is "a group that fights against equal treatment of LGBT people" whose "real purpose is to advance an extreme version or vision of society."
Kristen Waggoner, an ADF attorney on the Masterpiece case, called Franken's remarks "shameful" and said the American people "should expect more from our senators." Waggoner told the Washington Examiner she views the stakes in the Colorado baker's case as involving the right of all creative professionals to express their views and said all Americans should want the same freedoms regardless of religious affiliation.
"I think all Americans should have the right to freely practice their faith no matter what faith they are," Waggoner said. "The rights of free expression and freedom of religion benefit everyone from the atheist to the Catholic to the Protestant."
The Notre Dame law professor faced questions this week about how her Catholic faith would affect her judgment if she were confirmed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which was a leading topic of scrutiny from Senate Democrats at hearings on Barrett's nomination this week.
"When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee's top-ranking Democrat, to Barrett.
Feinstein also said, "You are controversial because many of us that have lived our lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems."
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin pressed Barrett on her definition of "orthodox Catholic," and whether she considered herself an orthodox Catholic.
"There are many people who might characterize themselves as orthodox Catholics, who now question whether Pope Francis is an orthodox Catholic," Durbin told Barrett. "I happen to think he's a pretty good Catholic."
"I agree with you," Barrett answered.
Barrett repeatedly said her Catholic faith would not have any impact upon her judgment — "beginning to end, in every case, my obligation as a judge would be to apply the rule of law" — but Durbin would have none of it.
"I can't tell you how many nominees have been before us in this panel for the bench, and virtually all say the same, 'I'm following the precedent, I'm following the law, I'm following the Constitution; don't worry a thing about who I am, how I was raised, what my religion is, what my life experiences have been. Put it all aside.' I don't believe that for a second," Durbin said. "I don't think you can divorce yourself from life's reality."
But Barrett and ADF have allies on the right in their battle against Senate Democrats and other progressives. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican Judiciary Committee member, used the time allotted to him at Barrett's hearings to inquire about the religious test clause of the Constitution and its importance.
"I think some of the questioning that you've been subjected to today seems to miss some of these fundamental constitutional protections that we all have," Sasse said.
Several GOP lawmakers, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, joined Waggoner at the Capitol this week to detail a brief filed in support of the Colorado baker with the Supreme Court from conservative members of both of Congress' chambers. ADF said Friday it counts the support of 86 total members of Congress and 20 states that have filed briefs at the Supreme Court in support of its argument on behalf of the Colorado baker.