The Democrats’ Religious Test for Federal Office: Faithful Catholics Need Not Apply

The Democrats’ open clash with Catholic beliefs this campaign season is something new in our national politics. But there are also signs in local races that party doctrine and Catholic beliefs are increasingly at odds. For instance, it’s hard to look at the Democratic Party’s attacks on GOP congressional candidate Keith Fimian without thinking that Democrats hate faithful Catholics intensely and perhaps hate authentic Catholicism even more.

Keith Fimian is a businessman who is running for Congress from the 11th District in increasingly liberal Northern Virginia. He has never run for political office before, but has spent his life running what has become a very successful business.

Fimian has plowed a few hundred thousand of his own money into the campaign and raised enough to have a campaign chest of over $1 million, enough to make him a threat. The Democrats believe that, given the leftward tilt of Northern Virginia, the 11th District is a seat they can snatch from the Republicans, who have held it for many years. But the Democrats are worried. How else to understand their decision to go after Fimian about his Catholicism?

The Washington Post reports that seven million very slick mailers have been sent to voters in the 11th District, raising alarms that Fimian is “extremely disturbing.” They say he is an officer in an organization that wants to outlaw the “constitutionally guaranteed rights of women,” that is “dedicated to ending contraception,” and encourages women to be more “submissive” to their husbands.

Fimian’s crime – one that, according to the Democrats in Congress, disqualifies him from federal office – is that he is a faithful Catholic who is a member of an organization of other faithful Catholics. The group is called Legatus, which was created by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan as an avenue for Catholic CEOs to live their Catholicism more faithfully. It’s not a mere coincidence that Legatus has links on its website to other groups that have also fallen outside the pale for the Democrats.

The American Life League, for one, has been hit because of its belief that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, which is, by the way, the same belief as that of the Catholic Church and all faithful Catholics.

The Democrats also attack a group called the Gift Foundation, which is allegedly “dedicated to ending contraception.” In fact, the Gift Foundation is dedicated to encouraging couples to eschew contraception and use natural family planning instead. Fimian has gone on record that, as a matter of public policy, he does not oppose contraception.

The Democratic Party has directed special attention to a group called “e5 Men” and charges that its members want women to be more submissive to their husbands. It is true that when Ephesians 5 is read in church every year, it is rather jarring to hear that women should be more submissive to their husbands. However, “e5 Men” does not focus on that part of the reading, but on the other part, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her,” i.e., even unto death.

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, an Episcopalian educated at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Law School, heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The head of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives is the noted Catholic theologian Nancy Pelosi of California. They are responsible for the campaign about Fimian’s Catholicism. In these attacks, the Democrats have lied. That’s politics. But what they have also tried to do is establish something like a religious test for federal office, something that is explicitly unconstitutional for government employees.

Talking heads on TV routinely get this wrong but the Constitution does not prevent me personally from using any test I choose for candidates for federal office. As a private citizen, I can do that all day long. I may determine that I will only vote for Catholics or Methodists or Wiccans, and the Constitution has nothing to say about it.

We get into constitutional trouble when a religious test for office is imposed or suggested by people in government. New York Senator Charles Schumer may have violated the constitutional prohibition on a religious test when he closely questioned candidates for federal judgeships about their “personal and deeply held beliefs” because Schumer was in fact getting at their Catholicism.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is on treacherous ground in their religiously-based attacks on Keith Fimian. The Democrats are very clearly trying to invoke a religious test for federal office and their conclusion is that faithful Catholics need not apply.


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.