Americans United for Separation of Church and State today announced its opposition to Michael W. McConnell's nomination to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
President George W. Bush is prepared to nominate McConnell, currently a professor at the University of Utah Law School, to the federal appeals court despite the scholar's consistent opposition to First Amendment principles such as church-state separation.
"This nomination represents a terrible assault on American freedom by the Bush administration," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "McConnell's record is one of relentless hostility for individual rights. I urge the Senate to swiftly reject his nomination.
"McConnell is the Religious Right's dream court nominee," continued Lynn. "He's a conservative Christian who's willing to use the force of government to impose his viewpoint."
McConnell is a member of the Christian Legal Society, a board member of the Federalist Society and an advisor of the Becket Fund -- all groups seeking a radical abandonment of individual rights.
AU's Lynn said McConnell has a long record of extremism on a broad range of individual rights issues. Lynn pointed to the following examples:
* McConnell has called for a "radical" departure from decades of church-state separation rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, (March 11, 2000, Salt Lake Tribune) and has indicated his support for public school prayer, voucher aid to religious schools and charitable choice aid to ministries.
* McConnell insists that the Constitution allows broad public funding of religious institutions. "We must therefore reject the central animating idea of modern Establishment Clause analysis: that taxpayers have a constitutional right to insist that none of their taxes be used for religious purposes." (Winter 1992, University of Chicago Law Review)
* McConnell has described church-state separation as never having been a "plausible or attractive conception of proper relations between government and religion in the modern activist state." In areas where there is common concern of religious and governmental institutions, McConnell has argued that the First Amendment principle is "either meaningless, or (worse) is a prescription for secularization of areas of life that are properly pluralistic." (1999, Utah Law Review)
* McConnell has said religion cannot be separated from other areas. "Many people think that it's possible to have an entirely secular education and any religious training can be on the side. I don't believe that religion is something which is a separable aspect of life." (Jan. 30, 2000, New York Times Magazine)
* McConnell criticized several recent Supreme Court rulings that upheld church-state separation, including Lee v. Weisman (1992), which prohibited government-sponsored prayer at school graduation ceremonies, and County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989), which limited government endorsement of religious displays on public property. He said these decisions "have nothing to do with freedom of religion. There is not a single person in these cases who has been hindered or discouraged by government action from following a religious practice or way of life." (Jan.-Feb. 1993, American Enterprise)
* McConnell has suggested that the majority of Americans aren't religious enough for his tastes. Discussing his views on people of non-Christian faiths, he said, "I have respect and maybe even affection for people who are struggling to understand God. Even if I think that they are looking in the wrong place, I still think they are doing something which is very important and quite different from the great mass of people who are simply trying to make more money or have more pleasure in their lives." (March 11, 2000, Salt Lake Tribune)
* McConnell has argued several cases at the Supreme Court, advocating increased public aid to private religious schools (Mitchell v. Helms, 2000) and public university assistance for religious publications (Rosenberger v. Virginia, 1995).
* McConnell praised Attorney General John Ashcroft's 1999 remarks at Bob Jones University as "beautiful." (In his remarks at the controversial school, Ashcroft said the source of America's character is "godly and eternal" and "We have no king but Jesus.") McConnell said Ashcroft "is saying freedom flourishes and the equality of human beings flourish when man is subordinate to God." (Jan. 13, 2001, Los Angeles Times)
* McConnell bitterly opposes Roe v. Wade and other Supreme Court rulings upholding abortion rights. Denouncing the court's "extreme vision of abortion rights," McConnell said, the court can deny legal protection "to fetuses only if it presupposes they are not persons.... One can make a pretty convincing argument, however, that fetuses are persons. They are alive; their species is Homo sapiens." (Jan. 22, 1998, Wall Street Journal)
* McConnell also signed a 1996 "Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern," which calls for the high court to overturn Roe and urges Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning all abortions, including those involving rape and incest. The statement claims that "abortion kills 1.5 million innocent human beings in America every year," and mourns the fact that some fathers "watch their children killed against their will" and "learn to their distress only much later that a child they would have raised is dead." (The America We Seek, Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern: 1996)
* In 1987, McConnell was an aggressive advocate of Robert Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. McConnell said "there is no more distinguished jurist in the land" than Bork and criticized the prospects of Supreme Court nominees who are "unknown, muddleheaded middle-of-the-roaders." (July 12, 1987, Newsday)
Observed AU's Lynn, "After looking at his record, McConnell starts to make Bork look moderate. This man wants to gut the constitutional protections that Americans count on. He's the wrong man for the job."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
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.