The Supreme Court & Christian Nationalism
Although the words "Christian Nationalism" do not appear in any Supreme Court case, a Christian interpretation of law is apparent in some of the Court’s recent decisions. There is currently a supermajority of six conservative justices on the Supreme Court, all of whom have expressed opinions favoring religion in the interpretation of the law in or out of court. These justices were recommended to Republican presidents by the Federalist Society, a well-funded conservative society of lawyers whose goals include interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning.
Current conservative Supreme Court Justices:
- Chief Justice John Roberts, who once worked in President Reagan’s administration, has argued that public schools may impose religion on children during some activities. He once stated that a decision striking down a Kentucky law requiring a Ten Commandments display in every public school classroom “betrayed a hostility to religion not demanded by the Constitution.” Seidel, Andrew L. American Crusade (p. 31).
- Justice Samuel Alito also worked in President Reagan’s Justice Department. He stated that his interest in Constitutional law was motivated by disagreement with the Warren Court’s decisions upholding separation of church and state.
- Justice Neil Gorsuch once dissented in a case striking down a Ten Commandments monument at a county courthouse because, he claimed, the phrase “I am the Lord thy God, you shall have no other gods before me” might convey a secular moral message and that the Ten Commandments’ influence on American law is “undeniable”.
- Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as a lawyer, fought to uphold a state program that sent taxpayer money to private religious schools.
- Justice Amy Comey Barrett was once a “Handmaid” in a conservative religious group.
A Few Pertinent Cases:
- In Salazar vs. Buono the Roberts court allowed an eight-foot-tall cross to stand in the middle of Mohave National Preserve, which is public land. Congress had delineated one acre within thousands of acres of public land around the cross and handed it over to a private entity in order to maintain the cross. The Roberts court approved this violation of church-state separation in a 5-4 decision.
- From the American Constitution Society:
- In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court effectively repudiated its Establishment Clause jurisprudence of the past 75 years, including the School Prayer Cases, and left nothing in its wake to prevent the government and its agents from using religion as an engine of policy. In the thin disguise of protecting an individual’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause, an opinion by Justice Gorsuch shrunk the Establishment Clause to a bar on undefined “historical practices and understandings.” Together with its decision [last year] in Carson v. Makin, decided with the same 6-3 split, the Court has jettisoned the entire post-World War II constitutional project of maintaining a secular state. The Chief Justice, and Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh, Alito, and Barrett, joined the opinion. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan, dissented. (American Constitution Society)
Questions for Discussion:
1. How great a threat to religious freedom is the current Supreme Court?
2. Regarding originalism, does it make sense to judge today’s laws based on the culture and law of the 18th and 19th centuries? This logic was also applied in a recent decision overturning a government’s right to bar convicted domestic abusers from owning guns.
3. What can be done at the federal and state levels to counter this threat?
4. What can individuals do to counter this threat?
5. Are we descending toward a Handmaid’s Tale scenario?
References (NOT required reading!)
The Current Supreme Court Supermajority: A Threat to Science and Secularism
Can the Nonbeliever Freely Exercise?
American Crusade by Andrew L. Seidel
Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, US Supreme Court, June 27, 2022:
Carson v. Makin, US Supreme Court, June 21, 2022
The First American Founder: Roger Williams and Freedom of Conscience (2016)
A new poll gives us insight into a troubling anti-American movement
See also #s 256 and 258-62 at https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1987069-separation-of-religion-and-government-liberty-of-conscience-and-tolerat?order=a&page=6.
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