The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to probe Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about her views on separation between religion and government.
FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, supports Brown Jackson’s confirmation, and celebrates the boost in quality and diversity that her addition to the high court will bring. Brown Jackson is a highly experienced judge who will bring the court closer to a place where it truly represents all Americans and stands up for the rights of all. Her confirmation hearing begins next week.
However, Brown Jackson’s record on the constitutional separation between state and church is sparse. She clerked for outgoing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who was an inconsistent advocate of this fundamental American right. FFRF’s letter urges the committee to ask Brown Jackson to share her perspective on the topic, ensuring that she will be a voice of reason in opposition to the court’s recent, alarming trend of bucking decades of well-settled precedent.
FFRF’s suggested line of inquiry begins with a “softball” question that should highlight a key difference between Brown Jackson and the Supreme Court’s most recent addition, Amy Coney Barrett: “If your faith and our law disagree, ‘would you be able to follow the requirements of your oath or would you be bound by your religious obligations’”? Justice William Brennan was asked this question, and gave an exemplary answer — that he would do his job regardless of his religious beliefs — a response that Barrett criticized. FFRF is hopeful that Brown Jackson will echo Brennan’s sentiment, and rebuff the notion that a judge’s personal religious beliefs can trump the secular oath of office.
FFRF’s letter also notes that Justice Neil Gorsuch unfortunately recently suggested that the Jeffersonian wall between state and church doesn’t even exist, calling it the “so-called separation of church and state.” The Supreme Court adopted the language in 1878, and it has been an established part of the law ever since. FFRF invites senators to ask Brown Jackson whether she agrees with Alexander Hamilton that the best protection for true religious freedom is a government that has “no particle of spiritual jurisdiction.”
FFRF’s suggested questions also touch on the recent redefinition of “religious liberty,” governmental use of religious phrases such as “In God We Trust,” the legal doctrine of stranding, and the new claim that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby have free exercise rights.
Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing will be a chance to examine many important aspects of federal law and the judiciary and should include attention to her views on the constitutional separation between state and church. The “first freedoms” embodied in the First Amendment, which protects liberty of conscience, undergird all of our nation’s other freedoms.
“We desperately need to replace Breyer with a Supreme Court justice who will champion the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, in the way envisioned by our Founders and as applied by the court until recently,” comments Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. “We’re optimistic that Brown Jackson will fill that role, even if she must do so in the form of dissents until Congress enacts long overdue court reform.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members and several chapters all across the country. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
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