With the addition of a Catholic Chief Justice to the United States Supreme Court, and what appears to be a confirmation battle for an evangelical Christian, one has to wonder how long it will be until the Religious Right achieves its long-held dream of a customized Supreme Court. The fact that James Dobson, leader of the far-right organization Focus on the Family has publicly supported nominee Harriet Miers due to her faith is a cause for serious concern for those of us who value the freedom of conscience in spiritual matters.
In the hope that Judge Roberts would not be confirmed by the Senate, I sent an e-mail to the seven Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee that asked him hard questions concerning judicial philosophy.
Letter to Seven Senators
"After four days of the confirmation process, we as a nation know as much about Judge John Roberts as we did before the hearings began; which, in my opinion, is almost nothing. As a woman and as an American citizen, I find this lack of information deeply troubling. We all saw that Judge Roberts declined to answer what many would consider simple questions, even those requiring only a "yes" or "no" response. One cannot help wondering why.
My main concern, however, is Judge Roberts' ambiguity about the most important part of the U.S. Constitution. For me, that is the establishment clause of the First Amendment, more informally known as the separation of church and state. He made that obvious when he dodged the question by Senator Feinstein. She quoted the late President John F. Kennedy's statement: "‘I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.' My question is: Do you?" When Judge Roberts' attempt to dodge it failed, Senator Feinstein pointedly asked, "you can't answer my question yes or no?" His response was, "well, I don't know what you mean by absolute separation of church and state." He went on to cite two recent Supreme Court decisions; one invalidating a Ten Commandments display in a Kentucky courthouse, the other upholding a Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. He ended by reiterating, "so I don't what that means when you say absolute separation."
Frankly, such statements are an insult to the intelligence of every American citizen. Judge Roberts has been lauded for his "brilliant legal mind," and his "outstanding legal career," among many other attributes presented by both sides of the political spectrum. So can the American public really be expected to believe that this man, with a brilliant legal mind, who has been nominated for the position of Chief Justice of the United States, honestly does not know the meaning of the word "absolute?" Come on! Although we all couldn't be nominated for Chief Justice, we are hardly idiots.
My reason for bringing this up as a primary concern is a simple one. Two of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, believed in a bill of rights. In fact, Mr. Madison was adamantly opposed to a Constitution that did not include such a bill. The very first amendment of our Bill of Rights begins with the following words: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."
You don't find those words in the second amendment or third, only the first. Can anyone not see such a clear intent? Both Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison, who went on to become our third and fourth presidents, clearly intended and absolutely prohibited the establishment of religion in this country. How anyone can fail to see the purpose of such a wise provision is beyond me.
Sadly, there are many in this country who actively seek to do away with this part of the First Amendment. They don't believe all Americans should have freedom of conscience in spiritual matters. Many have gone as far as to say that America needs a "Christian nation," which would actually deprive all but a few Americans of our most basic civil liberties, including the right to believe or not believe in a particular god or follow a particular faith. To say "I strongly disagree" with their views is a gross understatement.
American citizens who value the freedom of conscience, be it to worship or not to worship, must oppose all attempts by the Religious Right to undermine, erode, and erase this critical Amendment to our Constitution. That includes opposing the nomination of a Chief Justice who by all appearances takes the American public for fools. For this reason, and others too numerous to list in one letter, I strongly urge you and all Democratic senators to vote "No" on Judge Roberts' confirmation. Thank you. "
Lost The Battle But Still Fighting The War
Unfortunately, this letter failed to accomplish its intended goal, as Judge Roberts was confirmed by a vote of 75-22. However, it is vital that we not give up. We must ask ourselves some hard questions now, while we still have the chance. Do we really want a Supreme Court with a majority of justices who take the collective view that individual rights and liberties must take a back seat to religious conformity? Although the main criteria for religious conservatives is now focused on getting a majority of pro-life judges on the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, what would be their agenda afterward? And let's not forget an even more important question: when did we become so afraid of the Religious Right that we're going to allow them to push us toward a theocratic dictatorship without even an attempt at a challenge?
Representatives of Christian fundamentalist organizations like Concerned Women For America, Focus On The Family, and Family Research Council have mounted a very effective strategy to keep any criticism of religious extremism – and extremists – to all but the most bland terms. All they have to do is say that anyone who voices concerns or criticisms about religion in general and Christianity in particular is either "hostile to Christianity" or is "anti-religion." What is truly alarming is the fact that to a large degree, this propaganda tactic has worked very well.
So how do we begin challenging the militant Christian fundamentalists who pose a clear and present danger to our civil liberties by advocating a "Christian nation?" How do we counter the momentum? One way is to keep reminding them that the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states the following: "Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Although Antonin Scalia, among others, insists that this amendment was intended solely to prevent government from interfering with various churches, he is forgetting, either by chance or by design, that it was also written to prevent the churches from influencing the workings of
government. By preventing both government and church from interfering with each other, Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" was built. Jefferson himself made that crucial point in his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802:
"...Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owed account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
It doesn't take a legal scholar to read Jefferson's words and understand their meaning. So let's stop running scared. Effective immediately, let us refute the Religious Right's argument that "separation of church and state is not in the Constitution" by continuously pointing out that the First Amendment IS. For the sake of preserving the natural rights and liberties of those who are either non-Christian or non-religious, the "Wall Of Separation" must never be torn down.