The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sotomayor, religious freedom and the great unknown

President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court has triggered considerable hand-wringing on both sides of the culture-war divide over the relationship between religion and government under the First Amendment.

Weeks before Obama's announcement, Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice launched a preemptive strike, warning his constituents that Sotomayor has a "very, very strict view of church-state separation." Advocacy groups on the left can only hope Sekulow is right. They worry that Sotomayor won't compensate for the loss of Justice David Souter, a reliable vote for a high wall of separation in case after case.

Souter and his fellow separationists didn't win often on the current Court, but they managed to score an occasional 5-4 victory.

Further thinning of their ranks would make it difficult, if not impossible, to muster five votes for a strict interpretation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Unless Sekulow has a secret document that will reveal all, Sotomayor's long judicial record on the U.S. District Court level and, since 1998, on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tells us next to nothing about how she views the relationship between church and state. On the establishment clause, she is the great unknown.



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