Jonah Goldberg

During the first day of questioning at his Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court chief justice, John Roberts was asked about his religious views by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.

"In 1960," she noted, "there was much debate about President John F. Kennedy's faith and what role Catholicism would play in his administration. At that time, he pledged to address the issues of conscience out of a focus on the national interests, not out of adherence to the dictates of one's religion." She quoted JFK as saying, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," and then delivered what was supposed to be a hard-hitting coup de grace: "My question is: Do you?"

Roberts replied with the usual fog of generalities we've come to expect from Supreme Court nominees, while Sen. Feinstein tried to press him into saying he either did or didn't believe in an "absolute" separation between church and state. The incandescently clear implication of her remarks and questioning is that she'd prefer it if Judge Roberts did hold that there should be an "absolute" wall between all things religious and all things governmental.

Now, the funny part was that Sen. Feinstein had been sitting there just a little while earlier when Judge Roberts had been administered the oath to tell the truth "so help me God." She'd also sat there when he'd been asked by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., about the oath he took when he was sworn in as an appellate judge and the oath he'd take again when/if he's confirmed. It goes in part like this "I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as (title of position) under the Constitution and the laws of the United States, so help me God."

Why didn't Sen. Feinstein cry "foul"? Why didn't she say "Whoa, whoa, whoa! There will be no God-talk here"?

This is, after all, a heartfelt conviction on Sen. Feinstein's part. For example, in 2003, she was very upset to learn that Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr. - Bush's nominee to the 11th circuit court of appeals - had once told a Catholic high school that while the "American experiment is not a theocracy and does not establish an official religion" the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are "rooted in a Christian perspective."

"What," Sen. Feinstein asked Pryor at hearings on his nomination, "are others to think of that statement as to how you would maintain something that is important to this plural society, and that is an absolute separation of church and state?"

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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