Will Kamala Harris Drive Religious Voters Away From Joe Biden?
The Democratic vice-presidential nominee and has a record of pro-abortion and anti-religious freedom authoritarianism, and in 2018 she openly attacked a judicial nominee over his Catholic beliefs.
WASHINGTON — With his choice of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to be his running mate, former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made history by selecting the first Black woman and person of Indian descent on a major party’s ticket.
But Harris’ aggressive pro-abortion and anti-religious freedom record complements Biden’s own commitment in support for these issues — at odds with the teachings of his Catholic faith — which could spell trouble for his efforts to appeal to religious voters.
Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the first-term California senator’s selection as vice presidential nominee, a broad range of commentators have criticized her views on religious liberty and abortion — and in particular her harsh attacks on the Catholic faith of judicial nominee Brian Buescher, a member of Knights of Columbus, during his December 2018 Senate confirmation hearing.
“Harris was effectively treating membership in a distinctly Catholic organization as if it were allegiance to a hate group,” Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson noted in an Aug. 14 article, which was titled “Kamala Harris exacerbates Biden’s existing problem with religious voters. He must work to reassure them.”
Harris, 55, a former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney who ran in the 2020 presidential primary, was born in 1964 to an Indian mother and Jamaican father who met at the University of California-Berkeley. In terms of her religious background she is also diverse; she was raised with both Hindu and Baptist influences and is married to Douglas Emhoff, a Los Angeles lawyer, who is Jewish.
According to media reports, Harris now identifies as a Baptist. While she does not often invoke her faith, during a forum on combatting poverty last year she talked about how “Scripture teaches us when we fight for justice, it is not only our justice, it is justice for our neighbor” and how our neighbor is the “homeless,” the “vulnerable” and the “refugee.”
Not included in Harris’ definition of the vulnerable, however, is the child in the womb. A staunch abortion supporter, Harris supports taxpayer-funded abortion up through birth. She said that “it’s up to a woman to make that decision” when asked last year if there was ever a point at which abortion would be considered immoral.
She has also prominently advocated for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment ban on taxpayer funding of abortion and even asked Biden in a debate last year, “Why did it take so long until you were running for president to change your position on the Hyde Amendment?”
Biden, who once asserted that “those of us who are opposed to abortions should not be compelled to pay for them,” flipped his stance on Hyde shortly after declaring his candidacy for president, following a wave of criticism from abortion-rights supporters. He claimed at the time that he made the shift because, “Women’s rights and health care are under assault in a way that seeks to roll back every step of progress we’ve made over the last 50 years.”
Democrats for Life of America said in a statement that Biden’s selection of Harris “does not provide pro-life Democrats with any assurances and will, in fact, further alienate 21 million Democratic voters who have been left out of the party for quite some time.” The statement said Kamala’s “support for abortion without almost any restrictions is far out of line with the majority of Democrats and Americans on this sensitive issue.”
That view is also out of line with Catholic teaching which has constantly taught “the moral evil of every procured abortion.” The U.S. Bishops stated again last fall, in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” that opposition to abortion remains their “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”
Collaborating With Planned Parenthood
During her primary run, Harris proposed that “states that have a history of passing legislation designed to prevent or limit women’s access to reproductive health care will be required to come before my Department of Justice. Until we determine their laws are constitutional, they will not take effect.” She is also a co-sponsor of the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” which would end virtually all state limits on abortions, including waiting periods and 20-week bans.
As California’s attorney general, a position she held from 2011 to 2017, Harris was the “proud” co-sponsor of a 2015 law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers in California to “disseminate to clients” a message promoting public programs with “free or low-cost access” to abortion and contraceptive services. The law resulted in a lawsuit and ultimately a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2018 that determined it violated the First Amendment.
Harris has long been an ally of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. Following her vice-presidential nomination, pro-life activist and investigative journalist David Daleiden told EWTN Pro-life Weekly that, after the release in 2015 of his undercover videos alleging that Planned Parenthood trafficked in fetal organs, Harris, then-California attorney general, met with Planned Parenthood just prior to orchestrating a raid on his home.
And there is documentation showing that in the wake of the videos’ release, Harris drafted legislation at the abortion provider’s instruction to change the state penal code to make secretly recording and distributing communications with health care providers a crime. That legislation was signed into law in September 2016, while Harris was still serving as attorney general, and charges subsequently were filed against Daleiden and his colleague Sandra Merritt in March 2017, two months after Harris was sworn in to the U.S. Senate and Xavier Becerra had succeeded her as attorney general.
A December 2015 investigative report from the California Department of Justice also showed “direct involvement in the investigation by Planned Parenthood’s then-chief counsel, Beth Parker,” who instructed the state investigators “to seize Daleiden’s computers for Planned Parenthood, and which were seized.”
Both Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, said in statements that the choice of Harris made the Democratic ticket “the most pro-abortion” in history.
Dannenfelser called Harris’ role as attorney general in prosecuting Daleiden “a politically-motivated shakedown of brave citizen journalists who exposed Planned Parenthood’s role in the harvest and sale of aborted baby parts for profit.”
She said it was “no surprise” that Biden chose “such an extremist as his running mate,” and said that “if elected, they will immediately begin rolling back President Trump’s pro-life gains, as well as longstanding policies like the Hyde Amendment. They will stack the Supreme Court with pro-abortion ideologues, setting the pro-life cause back for generations.”
Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and director of the Catholic Women's Forum, was equally critical.
“The choice of Kamala Harris destroys any pretense that a Biden administration would allow Catholics and Catholic institutions to practice the faith and carry out the Church's mission in society,” she said.
Limiting Religious Freedom
Harris has twice sponsored the “Do No Harm Act” in the Senate, a bill that would amend the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to specify that religious exemptions should not apply to protections “against discrimination or the promotion of equal opportunity” and “access to, information about, referrals for, provision of, or coverage for, any health care item or service.”
Last year, Harris tweeted that "the freedom to worship is one of our nation's most cherished and fundamental rights — but it should never be used to discriminate or undermine other Americans' civil rights."
In 2014, Harris filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court not to grant Hobby Lobby a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.
“Rights to the free exercise of religious beliefs, whether created by statute or by the Constitution, likewise protect the development and expression of an ‘inner sanctum’ of personal religious faith,” the brief said. “Free-exercise rights have thus also been understood as personal, relating only to individual believers and to a limited class of associations comprising or representing them.”
In addition to her effort to limit religious freedom, and her ties with Planned Parenthood and her full backing of abortion without limitations, Harris showed overt hostility towards Catholicism during her grilling of Buescher during his December 2018 confirmation hearing. In a series of questions, she challenged his activity in the Knights of Columbus due to its Catholic views on abortion and marriage.
“Since 1993, you have been a member of the Knights of Columbus, an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men,” she said. “In 2016, Carl Anderson, leader of the Knights of Columbus, described abortion as ‘a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.’ Mr. Anderson went on to say that ‘abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale.’ Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?”
She also questioned if he was “aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when [he] joined the organization” and whether he had “ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to advocacy against women’s reproductive rights.”
At the time, the Jesuit publication America wrote an editorial calling the questioning indicative of “a surprising ignorance of the Knights’ many religious, charitable and civic activities beyond their direct political advocacy, not to mention a complete disregard for their history in opposing virulent anti-Catholicism in the nation’s past.”
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson commented that “such attacks on the basis of our Catholic faith are hardly new. The Knights of Columbus was formed amid a period of anti-Catholic bigotry.”
The questioning of Buescher by Harris, and by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, provoked a strong rebuke from their U.S. Senate colleagues the following month, when the Senate unanimously approved a resolution affirming “the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the Constitution of the United States.”
What Harris Brings to the Ticket
In selecting Harris, Biden fulfilled his promise to pick a female running mate. As a former prosecutor, she also brings to the ticket her proven abilities as a strong and quick-witted political debater, a quality that many observers think will be useful in helping her running mate, who has a long history of verbal fumbles as a campaigner, to counter President Trump’s attacks on the campaign trail and on social media
In terms of Harris’ political perspectives, she appeared slightly to the left of Biden during the Democratic primary and some members of the party’s progressive wing expressed disappointment at her selection. She was not the first choice of many left-leaning groups due in part to her “top cop” label from her time in California, where she was accused of being hesitant as attorney general to pursue cases against police officers, and to her ultimate rejection of “Medicare for all” in favor of a government-run health care system with a limited role for private healthcare.
But unlike Biden, Harris is in favor of guaranteed income and the Green New Deal, and one analysis of her voting record in the Senate actually placed her farther to the left than Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the leading progressive Democratic candidates during the presidential primary.
Evan Weber, political director for the Sunrise Movement, a far-left climate advocacy group that backed Sanders in the primary, told The New York Times that “I don’t know that the left is more excited by the Harris-Biden ticket than they would’ve been otherwise … but it’s clear that she’s to the left of Biden and she’s been more accountable to movements throughout her career.”
Immigration is one area where the views of Harris appear to align with U.S. Church leaders. She took a very vocal stance on the primary campaign trail in favor of programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which would grant temporary protections to immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
And her selection was hailed by some Black Catholic leaders, including Donna Toliver Grimes, associate director of African American affairs in the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.
“I was so elated,” Grimes told Catholic News Service, the U.S. bishops’ news service. “We, the community, need good news, and this was just wonderful.” The USCCB subsequently clarified that Grimes was not asked to speak on behalf of the USCCB, nor did she say she was speaking on behalf of the conference despite having been identified as a conference staff member in the CNS story.
Religious Voters’ Concerns
But while Harris appeals to some religious voters and has obvious political skills, her selection has heightened the widespread concerns many Catholics already had in light of Biden’s positions in opposition to Church teaching on fundamental moral issues like abortion, the definition of marriage and gender identity.
Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with the Catholic Association, told the Register in a statement that “Kamala Harris has come to be a ringleader of the anti-Catholic bullying that increasingly defines the Democratic Party.”
“It is equally disappointing to see Joe Biden tout his Catholic faith while picking as his running mate someone who has made her anti-Catholic bona fides clear,” she said.
Such concerns are shared by other Christians.
Writing on his American Conservative blog, Benedict Option author Rod Dreher said that “from the point of view of religious and social conservatives, I think Harris is very bad news.”
"I doubt that she will be significantly more progressive than any other Democrat that Biden could have picked, but the fact that she is so relatively young, and so stylistically vigorous, means that the Democrats in power are going to be very aggressively anti-conservative on social issues for the foreseeable future," predicted Dreher, who is Eastern Orthodox. "All of her left-wing vigor, both as a vice-presidential candidate and in whatever her promising future brings, will be directed at social conservatives.”
Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.