In the Deep South, Catholics split over Trump's court pick

AFP , Monday 28 Sep 2020

A sign motivating voters to "Elect/re-elect Jesus Christ" is seen on a roadside near a church in Jac
A sign motivating voters to "Elect/re-elect Jesus Christ" is seen on a roadside near a church in Jackson, Mississippi on September 27, 2020. AFP

Some appreciate her devout faith. Others think her nomination should wait until after the presidential election.

Outside a church after Sunday mass in the deep south state of Mississippi, US Catholics were split on President Donald Trump's choice of Amy Coney Barrett for the US Supreme Court.

Country-wide, religious conservatives have roundly welcomed the choice of Barrett, who says her Catholic faith guides her approach to the law, to replace strident progressive Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the high court.

Hoping it will aid his reelection, Trump wants the Senate to quickly approve 48-year-old Barrett before the November 3 vote, tilting the court towards the right for possibly decades.

That, conservatives hope, could put the court on the path to outlawing abortion, with Barrett, who strongly opposes the procedure, the decisive vote.

"Abortion is definitely one of the big issues. Some of my friends are going for Republicans because of the abortion issue," said Kathleen Feyen, 87, as she exited the Christ the King church in Jackson on Sunday.

- A church on every corner -

Churches of every denomination, large and small, some neatly kept with proud steeples and others under humble gables with peeling paint, hold places at nearly every street crossing in Mississippi's capital.

The state is one of the most religious in the country. According to the Pew Forum, 82 percent of the three million Mississippians believe firmly in the existence of God; three-quarters pray at least once a day.

And 59 percent believe abortion should be illegal in most cases.

Yet it doesn't make voters here absolutely committed to backing Trump over Democratic rival Joe Biden, himself one of the roughly 20 percent of Americans who are Catholic.

"I'm certainly against abortion" said Feyen, her view reflecting the official position of the Catholic Church.

But "that is not the only issue" of the election, she said.

She criticized Trump's administration for not helping the poor and needy.

"We are killing people in many ways by not taking care of them," she said.

People in the United States are dying "because they don't have medical care ... because they're left alone."

- Barrett 'lives the faith' -

Feyen thinks filling the seat left by Ginsburg, a champion of women's rights who died on September 18, should wait until after the election.

A few steps away, a group of African-American worshippers, who would not give their names, said they hoped the Senate would block Barrett's nomination.

But Derek Singleton, a black civil servant wearing an elegant green suit for Sunday's mass, took a different view.

"I am a Roman Catholic, I don't believe in abortion on demand," he said, calling the practice "not morally right."

Barrett is "devout," he said.

"She lives the faith. And it's one thing to talk, you have to live the faith," he continued, pointing to her dedication to raising a family with seven children.

Like Singleton, many African-Americans in Mississippi have conservative values, even if they generally vote for Democrats, according to historian Stephanie Rolph.

By contrast, she notes, whites in the Deep South are largely Republican, but those that vote Democrat are generally more liberal than blacks.

That presents a challenge for Biden as he battles Trump for voter support.

Anxious not to put anyone off, the Democrat has discreetly avoided the abortion issue while criticizing Barrett's nomination.

Instead, he is focusing on her expected stance against wider government-provided health care.

For George Jones III, a 77-year-old black man who converted to Catholicism, it's not a question of moral values, but of mixing religion and politics.

In the Catholic church, he said, they don't talk about politics in mass.

"There is a constitutional requirement (of separation) between state as well as religion," he said.

"I think we should have followed that."

Short link: