J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, joined by, from left, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, discusses his panel's plan to move forward on four of the president's appellate court nominees and one district court nominee this week, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. 

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's two Republican senators came to the defense of federal judicial nominee who they say is being unfairly questioned about her religion.

"I have to say that we stoop pretty low if we start to raise questions of religious belief before somebody can serve on the federal judiciary," Sen. Orrin Hatch said. "Now I hope that that type of questioning will hit the dustbin of history, where it belongs."

Hatch joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP senators at a news conference in Washington, D.C., to show support for Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, a nominee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Barrett is a Roman Catholic and member of a small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty to one another and are assigned and accountable to a personal adviser, called a "head," who helps them make important decisions.

Hatch said it's "pretty bad" if good people can't serve on the federal bench because of their religious beliefs.

"If we go down that route, then can you imagine all the other issues that can be raised about various people and how difficult it would be to pick federal judges?" he said.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have targeted her writings and have been accused of religious bigotry by Hatch and others.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., wasn't convinced Barrett would uphold Roe v. Wade given her Catholic beliefs.

"When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country," Feinstein said at Barrett's confirmation hearing.

At the news conference, Sen. Mike Lee cited the infamous "extermination order" Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs signed to rid the state of Mormons 179 years ago. Lee said that bigotry can never be allowed to repeat itself.

Barrett shouldn't be subject to any kind of religious test to serve in government, he said

20 comments on this story

"Because the fact is her religious beliefs or religious affiliation have nothing to do with her qualifications to serve as a federal appellate court judge," he said.

Lee said the way Democratic senators questioned her were worse than just asking if she were a Catholic.

"They were asking, 'Do you actually believe that stuff? Do you actually believe the doctrine of your church? Do you believe it deeply, sincerely?' Suggesting that if so, that is somehow a problem," he said.

The Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 along party lines to recommend Barrett earlier this month. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on her nomination this week.