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.
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.
"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."
And you know what they are like. Not only do they oppose abortion, they support school prayer and probably don't think school vouchers are such a bad thing.
So as the country slogs through bogs of rhetoric toward the next elections, "Church and State" is slogan-of-the-year.
We are hiring one president, one vice president, the entire House of Representatives, and one-third of the Senate. In every race, personal religious belief and practice could be the election litmus test.
What's a Catholic to do?
Most candidates add the "personally opposed" clause to their repertoires, as in "I am personally opposed to abortion, but believe the government should pay for abortions for the poor." Popularized by former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo nearly 25 years ago, the "personally opposed" clause seems to let you be Catholic and run for office. That's not quite true, but sometimes it works.
You know, it's just a shame.
We do have a state religion, from sea to shining sea. It is secularism. God -- no matter how defined -- does not watch over our nation. Rather, a godless secularism that denies moral or ethical judgments in line with those of religion floods the airwaves and the halls of legislatures.
It is just plain silly.
Who we are determines our viewpoints. Who we are as a nation determines our future. To throw religious insight out of the mix is suicidal, and unravels the tapestry of American political thought.
What to do? Free discussion is the main engine of democracy. But in political discussion both believers and non-believers pick away at Catholic candidates so much that their every thought is subject to the secularism test.
Do we really prefer judges, presidents, governors and legislators with no moral training or opinions? Specifically, do we really mean to cut out Catholic public servants?
The rest of the First Amendment promises in "pre-blog" terms that we can talk about all this: "Congress shall make no law. ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Let us do so respectfully and honestly.
Meanwhile, how about if Rosie O'Donnell and her friends just give religion a chance?