Americans United Joins Coalition Effort To Urge Senate Defeat Of Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts

Church-State Watchdog Group Says Nominee Insensitive To Minority Religious Freedom Rights

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today joined a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations to urge the Senate not to confirm Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

Roberts, Americans United asserts, has advocated overturning decades of settled church-state law. The organization says his legal philosophy would allow majority rule on issues like prayer in public schools, thus trampling the rights of religious minority groups.

Americans United also notes that Roberts, during his stint in the Reagan White House, repeatedly backed “court stripping,” a radical proposal to deny the federal courts’ right to hear certain types of cases.

Dr. Paul D. Simmons, a clinical professor of medical ethics at the University of Louisville and an ordained Baptist minister, represented Americans United at a press conference at the National Press Club to oppose Roberts’ confirmation. Simmons currently serves as president of Americans United’s Board of Trustees.

The full text of Simmons’ remarks follows:

“I am the Reverend Dr. Paul Simmons, clinical professor of medical ethics at the University of Louisville and an ordained Baptist minister. I am here today representing Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where I currently serve as president.

“John G. Roberts is the wrong man to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I do not make that statement lightly. Americans United has thoroughly examined Roberts’ record, and we find it troubling, if not alarming. We believe his failure to respect the value of precedent and his inability to understand the rights of religious minorities make Roberts ill suited to assume a lifetime seat on our nation’s highest court.

“As a government attorney in the early 1990s, Roberts co-authored legal briefs asking the Supreme Court to scrap decades of church-state precedent. He urged adoption of a standard that would recognize the alleged “historical” nature of some practices that entangle church with state. Roberts doesn’t seem to realize or appreciate the history and values of the separation of church and state, or that imposing sectarian religion by the government violates fundamental freedoms and harms religious minorities.

“Roberts has been a loyal foot solider in the extremist efforts to remake our legal system. During the Reagan years, he repeatedly advocated “court stripping” arguing that Congress has the right to pass laws taking away the federal courts’ ability to hear controversies over such issues as school prayer and legal abortion. Roberts would slam the courthouse door in the face of religious minorities seeking to protect their rights.

“A Supreme Court justice must respect precedent and value judicial restraint. Roberts does neither, advocating instead an abrupt overthrow of existing church-state guidelines. Such an approach would leave millions of Americans vulnerable to majoritarian rule and government coercion in religious matters.

“Roberts’ advocacy of government-sponsored school prayer would put the children of minority religious faiths at risk, perhaps singled out and exiled to the hall. Our nation is better than that. Parents should make the choice about their children’s religious education, not clergy trying to impose their religious views through prayers in our nation’s public schools.

“Americans United’s members and chapters throughout the country are asking our friends and neighbors to join us in opposing the Roberts nomination.

“In addition, Americans United has activated its clergy network in all 50 states, representing thousands of houses of worship. Religious communities have a great deal to lose if Roberts is confirmed, and we are working with them to take a leading role in defeating his nomination. We will also be supporting rallies opposing Roberts on college campuses.

“The Supreme Court is precariously divided over many religious liberty issues, including those of great importance to religious minorities. Too much is at stake for us to remain silent. We intend to oppose his nomination vigorously.

“Thank you.”

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.