Abortion Debate Brings Anti-Catholicism Into Focus

'Church and State' is the rallying cry of secularists. Their test for public service is clear: Catholics need not apply.

Every so often the undercurrent in the abortion debate snaps clearly into anti-Catholic focus.

Witness Rosie O'Donnell's angry comment about Catholic Supreme Court Justices on the popular ABC women's program "The View." Ms. O'Donnell was upset by the high Court's recent 5-4 decision outlawing partial-birth abortion. The five majority-vote justices are Catholic.

"Church and State!" Rosie exclaimed.

Barbara Walters -- to no avail -- tried to point out that in confirmation hearings those five Catholic Justices said they would not be influenced by personal religious beliefs.

Not good enough for Rosie: "Church and State!"

I guess her point is that Catholics cannot participate in government. That used to be called "nativism." Now it's called "commentary."

Let's take a look at the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, to which O'Donnell apparently referred. What the amendment says, exactly, is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ..."

That's it. Same now as it was in 1791, when the framers wanted to be sure the fledgling democracy stayed just that -- a democracy. No state religion. No king-appointed bishops. No laws against public worship.

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Yes, there have been many cases over the years testing the establishment clause. And yes, we know the United States has no official state religion. Good thing, too.

There is nothing in the First Amendment, or anywhere else in the Constitution, that imposes a religious test on public service. Perhaps we inherited the unspoken prejudice against Catholics from our British cousins? There is that nasty business about the British Act of Settlement, excluding Catholics from royal succession in 1701. That law is still on the books in Britain.

But we are Americans and not worried about whether someone "should profess the popish religion, or marry a papist," as the folks in England put it.

Right, Rosie?

"Church and State" is the rallying cry of secularists across the land. Their religious test for public service has been around for a long, long time. The test is fairly clear: Catholics need not apply. Sometimes the test includes all Christians, but that's only to prove Catholics are in league with what the spin jocks call "Christian fundamentalists."

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Phyllis Zagano
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