Week 10: Catholics, Conservatives, and the Courts

The Catholic vote is one that is epically undefinable because of the historically ethnically diverse Catholic population. While contemporarily Catholics are believed to be rich white men due to Trump’s following, they have a past history of campaigning through their religious beliefs. In our readings, Samuel A. Mills and William Blake describe the importance of the Supreme Court and their religious affiliations and Patrick Allitt and Colleen Doody both bring insight to the beginnings of Catholic conservatism. After attending Milles Co-Op Bookstore event in Hyde Park, the idea of divides within the Catholic left and right became more prevalent.

In William Blake’s “God Save This Honorable Court: Religion as a Source of Judicial Policy Preferences,” he explains the importance of the Supreme Court’s religious preferences. Blake opens by explaining the role of the Supreme Court in the United State’s as being the worldview of the country, which is comparable to scripture in the Catholic church. (814) The data Blake collected shows that religion is important in judicial policy preferences, even when the justice is unaware of the side they’re choosing. (822) In Samuel A. Mills’ “Parochiaid and the Abortion Decisions: Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. versus the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy,” he puts a spotlight on the unique politics of  Justice William J. Brennan, who chose between Constitutional relevancy and the leadership of Catholic clergymen. Mills focused on the two most relevant cases where Justice Brennan went against the Catholic Church, abortion and aid to parochial schools. (772) Mills compares Brennan’s ideals with New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s, where he personally doesn’t support abortion, but votes in the best interest of the people and therefore the legality of abortion carries on. Although, after his retirement in 1990 Brennan showed no remorse when asked if he would’ve voted differently stating “Hell no…I never thought I was wrong.” (773) Mills concluded with praising Brennan for standing up to the church and voting based on what the people of the United States would benefit the most from. After visiting the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore field trip to see Milles discuss his book “Good Intentions: A History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump,” the ideas presented by Mills and Doody came together even more. Milles discussed the division of the Catholic church and political activism caused by the Roe v. Wade decision. The cracks are seen due to the inability to separate political and religious beliefs, which led to a confusion among Catholic voters on which side is more “correct.”

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New York Governor Mario Cuomo Speaking in Support of Planned Parenthood 

In Colleen Doody’s, “Detroit’s Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism,” she presents the formation of Catholic participation in the conservative party. Doody explains that Detroit Polish Catholics came together to band against anti-communism in the United States during the Red Scare. While the Catholic church had support with their anti-communism when the Cold War began the church’s beliefs were better received, as they were seen as “true defenders of ‘Americanism.'” (92) Doody explains the idea of ‘Americanism’ as a “return to timeless values,” which meant turning against the New Deal and essentially the Democratic party, making them Republican. In Patrick Allitt’s, “American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s,” he showcases the origins of Catholic conservatism through Goldwater, who won the 1964 Republican ticket for president. The nomination is viewed as a victory because it was the first time conservative ideology was seen in an American political party. (36) Allitt explains that after Goldwater’s victory, even though he didn’t win the election, the conservative party gained momentum through the “Vietnam War, black militancy, and urban riots.” (37) Additionally, the importance of religion for “social stability and political resolution” was seen when the party attracted a larger following. Allitt concludes that the conservative party was majorly controlled by Catholics in the 1950s, but changed to evangelical Protestants by the 1970s and 80s.

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Seminary Co-Op Bookstore in Hyde Park Taken By Alice Gordon

To conclude, after visiting the Co-Op bookstore and reading the ideas presented by Mills, Milles, Doody, Blake, and Allitt it’s easy to understand where the confusion and frustration with overlapping of political and religious beliefs start. Ultimately, I agree with the explanations given by each scholars’ interpretations of the Catholic conservative struggle. As the midterms are coming up in only two days, it’s important for every person to vote and decide on which side they want to vote with: their religious beliefs or personal beliefs, which can easily be on opposite sides. While it’s a tough decision for many devoutly religious and politically active people in the United States, it’s absolutely necessary that each person votes to make their voice heard on November 6th!

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“Don’t boo, vote.” Barack Obama 
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