With the recent announcement of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, one of the best things President Joe Biden can do to ensure a strong, legitimate and representative court is to do what should have been done with the vacancies. past: the next Supreme Court justice should be an atheist, humanist, agnostic, or of unaffiliated religious status.
Separation between church and state is one of the best qualities of the American system of government, and despite all its flaws and problems that we can assume, one thing that has kept the United States on the path of democracy and civil rights is an explicit wall between religious theocracy and secular governance.
This wall has been attacked in court in recent years, from attacks on same-sex couples and women’s bodily autonomy to the use of public funds to fund sectarian (and often discriminatory) schools and religious institutions. All of these attacks come from different explicitly religious organizations with explicitly religious arguments and justifications. And some of these assaults have been successful, not because most Americans agree or disagree with them, but because the Supreme Court has tended to accommodate the religious institutions that influence our government.
Only two justices in the near past have had a good track record in recognizing this wall between church and state, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We have seen the other judges, nominated by both sides no less, use their own faith to accommodate bigoted arguments in court, including Breyer. Each member of the court represents any religious faith with an extreme disproportionate amount representing a relatively minority religious sect: Catholicism. About 22% of Americans identify as Catholic, but seven of the nine Supreme Court appointees represent that particular sect. Compare that with the roughly 30% of Americans who claim no religion but find themselves without representation in court.
This problem is further compounded by the fact that membership in these religious institutions is in very public decline, while the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States are the “nones”, those who find themselves affiliated with any religious institution or belief system. . This does not reflect well on the future of the separation of church and state in this country with massive trends towards no religion, especially when these appointments are for life.
We can see a direct line between the beliefs of Supreme Court justices and their accommodating stances toward religious influence in government. This has directly led to an erosion of this wall between Church and State.
The best thing Biden can do to ensure secular government continues is to appoint judges and justices who firmly believe and recognize that secular government is the best and only way to ensure the persistence of religious freedom in states. -United. Freedom of religion is also freedom from religion, and on an occasion as momentous as this, we should expect what our country looks like rather than clinging to old and overrepresented institutional biases. It means recognizing and welcoming qualified applicants who have no interest in maintaining or enabling theocracy in the US government.
Jason Benell is secretary of the central group Iowa Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers. He is a veteran, resident, and campaigner for the separation of church and state and secular governance.