Americans United Report Says Supreme Court Nominee Is Threat To Church-state Separation

Religious Liberty Watchdog Group Calls On Senate To Reject Alito

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. harbors a narrow view of religious liberty and would likely join the Supreme Court’s most conservative members in dismantling the wall separating religion and government, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a 22-page report issued today, Americans United detailed Alito’s troubling legal record on church-state issues and called on the Senate to reject his nomination.

“Judge Alito appears to be exactly what the extreme right wants for the nation’s top court a judge eager to seriously weaken the wall separating religion and government,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “As a federal appeals court judge, Alito has consistently sided with powerful religious groups who have sought government help in promoting their work. “The senate should not confirm a hard-right nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” Lynn continued.

Americans United’s report reveals that as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Alito consistently chipped away at the principle of church-state separation, which has protected religious minorities from oppression.

The report argues that replacing O’Connor with Alito “would fundamentally alter First Amendment law and immediately put at risk many of the crucial protections for religious minorities that the Supreme Court has recognized and consistently enforced over the past sixty years.”

“Throughout her career on the Court, Justice O’Connor has been keenly attuned to the plight of religious minorities in society as a whole, and most especially in the public schools,” reads the report. “But Judge Alito’s focus has been elsewhere: on religious majorities’ ability to express their views through governmental instrumentalities, at government-owned facilities, and in government-organized enterprises like the public schools.”

The report, available on AU’s Web site, www.au.org, examines Alito’s federal court opinions on religious liberty matters. The analysis of his work shows that he has advanced a narrow view of religious liberty.

For example, in a 1996 case, Alito joined a dissenting opinion arguing that it is constitutional for public schools to allow students to vote on having prayer at graduation ceremonies. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against officially sanctioned prayer at public school events, in part, because of the coercive nature of such policies on religious minorities.

In another case, Child Evangelism Fellowship of New Jersey, Inc. v. Stafford Township School District, Judge Alito ruled that a group dedicated to evangelizing children in fundamentalist Christianity had a legal right to compel a public elementary school to publicize its meetings by, among other things, having teachers distribute to their classes the group’s evangelizing religious materials.

AU’s report also highlights two cases where Alito sided with government-sponsored holiday displays. AU asserts that Alito’s actions in those cases show him to be “far more amenable than either Justice O’Connor or the Supreme Court to allowing government to use holiday displays to communicate messages of religious favoritism.”

Additionally, AU’s report covers Alito’s views on the free exercise of religion, where he has a mixed record.

Lynn said AU’s report would be submitted to the Senate.

“We strongly urge senators not to confirm Judge Alito,” said Lynn. “His legal record indicates he has a deeply flawed understanding of church-state separation and serious disregard for the rights of religious minorities against majoritarian influence.”

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.