Americans United Criticizes Senate Confirmation Of John G. Roberts

Church-State Watchdog Group Expresses Concern About New Chief Justice's Stance On Religious Liberty

Americans United for Separation of Church and State expressed disappointment in the Senate’s confirmation of John G. Roberts, Jr., to be the 17th chief justice of the United States.

Voting 78 to 22, the Senate today confirmed Roberts’ nomination.

Americans United had urged senators to defeat the nomination, citing Roberts’ hostile record toward the First Amendment principle of church-state separation.

“We fear that Roberts will move the high court in a direction that will prove detrimental to religious liberty in this country,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “His record during the Reagan and first Bush administrations showed him to be a consistent advocate for a radical lowering of the church-state wall.”

In late August, Americans United issued a report, “Religious Minorities At Risk,” showing that throughout his political and legal career Roberts has opposed Supreme Court decisions upholding church-state separation and freedom of conscience for all Americans. For example, the report noted that as principal deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration, Roberts co-authored a brief in a 1992 school prayer case asking the high court to scrap an important decades-old test the federal courts have used to decide church-state cases.

During his hearings in early September Roberts said little to assuage Americans United’s concerns.

 But during an exchange with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sept. 13, Roberts did suggest that he believes the First Amendment’s religious liberty clauses were meant to protect all Americans.

“I think the animating principle of the framers, that’s reflected in both of the religion clauses, is that no one should be denied the rights of full citizenship because of their religious belief or their lack of religious belief,” Roberts said.

Lynn said he hoped Roberts would live up to that viewpoint in his new capacity as chief justice.

“I hope John Roberts sincerely meant those words and that his decisions on the high court will reflect that sentiment,” Lynn said.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.