One can't help wondering why every journalist at the President's press conference last month missed the obvious question. Which is, does the President support the separation between church and state or not? If he is truly in favor of keeping religion out of government, then why is he nominating justices that are on record as being lukewarm, even hostile to it? California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown has referred to the wall of separation between church and state as "an uninformative metaphor." Come on! Does she really expect us to believe she does not know it means no government establishment of religion? We may not all be Supreme Court justices, but we're not complete fools either.
William H. Pryor, former Alabama Attorney General, has a record that's even more disturbing. Some of his past remarks on various judicial matters included the following: "the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man. The challenge of the next millenium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective." Has he forgotten that the founding fathers fought hard to keep the "Christian perspective" out of the American experiment? Not very likely. Statements like this one make it pretty clear that Pryor wouldn't mind one bit if that wall was knocked down permanently.
Close, But No Cigar
Journalist David Gregory came the closest by asking about the role that faith is playing in our political debates, but even then, it was not close enough. President Bush was able to tap dance around the question, saying that people are opposing his nominees because they don't like their judicial philosophies. When asked again about how religion plays in debates, he dodged that one as well. "Well, I can only speak to myself, and I am mindful that people in political office should not say to somebody, you're not equally American if you don't happen to agree with my view of religion," Bush said. If Gregory was hoping for a more direct answer, he didn't get his wish. Had he simply asked the President if he supported the Separation of Church and State, it would have produced one of two answers, yes or no. So why didn't he?
During an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball last week, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council attacked Democrats for opposing judicial nominees simply because they were people of faith. Unfortunately, Matthews failed to make the critical point that a person's religious faith alone isn't a cause for concern. But faith does become an issue when a judicial nominee has publicly stated his or her ambiguity and even hostility to the First Amendment, which prohibits religion from interfering with government.
Nominees who appear to advocate required prayer in public schools or to "restore a Christian perspective" clearly indicate that their religious ideologies may take precedence over their judicial duties. There will be cases in future where religious groups attempt to interfere with various areas of government, such as Illinois vs. McCollum in 1948. How would Brown or Pryor have ruled in that case, or would they rule in future, given the opportunity? Would they uphold the law and vote against religious interests, as Justice Hugo Black did in 1948, or would their faith have compelled them to write opinions favoring religion instead?
Tough Questions To Consider
As part of their confirmation hearings, it would make sense for the nominees to be asked some hard questions regarding their feelings on past cases where religious interests clashed with the workings of government. Such as, if they had been part of the panel hearing the McCollum case in 1948, would they have upheld the practice of holding bible study during public school hours, or supported Judge Black's decision that it was unconstitutional? Considering that Pryor recently voted in favor of keeping a statue of the Ten Commandments on court premises, it's not much of a stretch to believe he would vote in favor of children receiving bible study during public school hours as well. Whether Justice Brown would also support religion over government is a question only she can Ė and should Ė answer.
It is very possible that a case of "pharmacist's rights" will come before one of the higher courts in the next year or two. Several pharmacists have recently been fired from their jobs for refusing to fill prescriptions for either emergency contraception or regular birth control pills. They claim religious objections to contraception as the reason for failing to perform this job function. Should one of these cases be heard by either Brown or Pryor, how would they rule? What is their opinion of the whole "pharmacist's rights" debate?
This is only one issue where the interests of religion come in direct conflict with those of government. Other cases are either before the courts now or will be in the coming years. In the past, politicians allowed religion to slyly intrude into places it had no business being. "In God We Trust" is on all of our dollar bills and coins. "One nation under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, even though not every citizen of the United States follows a religion or attends church.
How much further will religious groups go to eliminate the Separation of Church and State entirely? Even more important, how many high court judges will allow it to happen? If President Bush continues to nominate judges who are clearly opposed to the separation of religion from government, it is the duty of Congress and the United States Senate to vote against them. We can only hope that Congress and the Senate will take this duty seriously, for the stability of our country.