Kagan Should Be Questioned on Church and State: Faith Leaders

A group of faith leaders are calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is questioned on her views on church and state during her confirmation hearings.

In a statement released yesterday, the Rev. C Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said that the Supreme Court's "systematic assault" on religious freedom protections in recent years make it imperative that Kagan's views on the issue are examined.

"More and more, the fight to protect our religious freedom is happening in the courts rather than in Congress," Gaddy wrote. "Given that reality, I will be particularly attentive to the nominee's views on the importance of preventing any entanglement between the institutions of religion and government in our nation."

"Though this is not the only concern that merits attention and examination, support for religious freedom is crucial to maintaining the foundation on which our system of government has been constructed and sustained," he added.

Gaddy's views were shared by the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, who said that ascertaining Kagan's basic judicial philosophy is crucial given the Supreme Court's divide over issues such as tax funding of religion, the role of religion in public life, and the limits of religious freedom.

Lynn added that Kagan's church-state views are especially important as she would be replacing former Justice John Paul Stevens, who was a strong supporter of the philosophy.

In the 2002 Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris decision, which granted vouchers for students to enter private schools, Stevens dissented on the consensus saying that, "whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundations of our democracy."

In a similar case in 1980, Stevens was quoted as saying that, "[T[he entire enterprise of trying to justify various types of subsidies to nonpublic schools should be abandoned. Rather than continuing with the Sisyphean task of trying to patch together the 'blurred, indistinct and variable barrier' described in Lemon v. Kurtzman, I would resurrect the 'high and impregnable' wall between church and state constructed by the Framers of the First Amendment."

Stevens, who was the only Protestant on a bench that included six Catholics and two Jews, announced his retirement last month after serving for nearly 35 years.

Some observers have expressed concern that the addition of Kagan, who is Jewish, to the Supreme Court would potentially result in an imbalanced interpretation of American values coming from the Judiciary branch.
Recent Gallup poll numbers, however, showed that over 60 percent of Americans think it doesn't matter whether Stevens' replacement is Protestant or not.

The poll also showed that 42 percent of Americans want the new justice to be conservative, in contrast to Stevens who was a reliable liberal voter.

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