Amy Coney Barrett is a distinguished law professor at the University of Notre Dame. She’s also a White House nominee to the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals. In confirmation hearings on September 6, Democratic senators repeatedly raised thinly veiled questions about Barrett’s suitability to serve as a federal judge because of her Catholic faith – as if her religion somehow made her sub-rational or instinctively biased on matters of the law.

The day’s signature line came from Democrat Dianne Feinstein. The senator told Barrett that she worried that “dogma lives loudly in you” – this, from a person whose own dogmatic decibel level on abortion “rights” could shatter glass.

The offending senators drew heavy criticism: two editorials in the Wall Street Journal, an open letter from the president of Princeton University, anger from scores of columnists and legal scholars, and a burst of scornfully humorous T-shirts, headbands and coffees mugs with the slogan “The dogma lives loudly in me.” But as vulgar as the behaviour of Feinstein and her colleagues was, it did serve a pedagogical purpose. Senate hearings are a form of theatre. The play is a means of moral instruction. The lesson Ms Barrett received from Democratic senators on September 6 is simple. Dissent from progressive cultural orthodoxies will be shamed and punished.

America is the offspring of a mixed marriage, a child of Protestant and Enlightenment imaginations. So it’s no surprise that anti-Catholic prejudice has a long pedigree in the United States. But as Sohrab Ahmari noted in the New York Times, the latest episode with Amy Barrett is part of a new and much wider “repressive turn” among Western liberals – a turn not merely moralising in its own perverse way, but quite intentionally inquisitional. The target today is not just the Catholic Church but the whole framework of biblical moral thought and its public influence. And the weapon of choice is the issue of sex.

Why sex? Writers as different as Augusto Del Noce and Wilhelm Reich noticed decades ago that US culture suffers from peculiar contradictions on matters of sex rooted in its Puritan heritage. And that weakness can be used. Here’s an example.

American Evangelical Protestants make up the nation’s largest, if loosely connected, religious group; a group that has often made its views felt in the public square on disputed moral issues. On August 29, a group of prominent Evangelical scholars and pastors – including respected public voices like Russell Moore – issued the Nashville Statement, a public text dealing mainly with issues related to sexuality. It’s worth reading in the original, rather than reading about it. Nothing in the document is shocking or belligerent. On the contrary: in its preamble and 14 articles, the text simply reaffirms historic biblical beliefs about marriage, chastity and the nature of human sexuality. Critics might question its timing or structure or wording or things it omitted. Some Evangelicals have done so. In a normal time, though, the statement would be a non-story.

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