The Freedom From Religion Foundation is set to release a report exposing the growing imbalance, Christian Nationalism and religious favoritism of the federal judiciary.
The massive shift in the judicial makeup highlighted in the report is having a profound impact on issues that are fundamental to every American, such as protecting religious minorities, upholding anti-discrimination laws and protecting public school students from religious pressure.
The rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is the culmination of the Religious Right’s capture of the federal courts — a crusade more than a decade in the making.
Our godless Constitution separates state and church, and federal courts have long defended that founding American principle. From the time our framers wrote that Constitution, certain basic principles were understood, including the idea that religious freedom is a protection, not a weapon. The conservative Christian Nationalists who’ve captured the courts have turned these and other hallowed principles on their head. In 2016, 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, and in return they’ve gotten a federal judiciary willing to codify religious privilege while stripping the rights of minorities.
FFRF’s report will illustrate this alarming shift with data and evidence pulled from the opinions these judges have written. Sadly, there is a lot of fodder for the report. The high court has been recently packed with three more darlings of the Religious Right, adding to the three that were already there. And in less than four years, President Trump has appointed 53 circuit court judges and 162 district court judges. By the end of this congressional term, Trump-appointed judges could account for more than one-third of all federal circuit court judges and a quarter of all district court judges. FFRF has been working to mobilize its members to oppose the many recent judicial nominees that are both unqualified and radically theocratic.
One such judge is Justin Walker, who was rated as unqualified for judicial office by the nonpartisan American Bar Association and was yet appointed and confirmed last year to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. In a hastily issued opinion allowing large Christian congregations to gather for Easter services in violation of a neutral statewide pandemic public health order, Walker issued an inflammatory, now infamous opinion that began: “On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter.” Walker’s opinion reads like the first draft of a Christian Nationalist manifesto. “It was not long ago, for example, that the government told the Supreme Court it can prohibit a church from choosing its own minister; force religious business owners to buy pharmaceuticals they consider abortion-inducing; and conscript nuns to provide birth control,” wrote Walker. A few months later, Walker was nominated and confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often regarded as the second-highest court in the land.
Federal judges have complete power to determine whether government action that favors religion is unconstitutional, what legal test will be used to analyze such government action, and whether or not citizens can even get their day in court to challenge such government action. Often, it is lower court and appellate court judges that are doing the damage on behalf of Christian Nationalism.
“The Religious Right has been packing the federal bench with judges willing to radically redefine religious liberty,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We hope this report alerts everyone about this phenomenon and demonstrates how necessary it is to reform and rebalance the federal bench.”
It has become undeniable that the struggle to protect and defend the all-American principle of separation between religion and government must encompass a campaign to reclaim our courts from theocrats. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s report will bring this point home to its 33,000 members and the millions of nonreligious Americans who will suffer without a change.