Americans United for Separation of Church and State today praised Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens for his record of support for church-state separation and expressed the hope that his replacement will hold similar views.
Stevens, the oldest member of the court, announced this morning that he will retire at the end of this term. President Barack Obama is expected to soon reveal his choice to replace Stevens.
“Justice Stevens is an icon -- a thoughtful, perceptive justice who understands the role of church-state separation in American life,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It is vitally important that President Obama choose a high court nominee who understands that government may not meddle in matters of religion.
“The high court is deeply divided on church-state issues,” Lynn continued. “It is imperative that Stevens’ replacement be someone who understands and upholds the constitutional mandate of church-state separation.”
Lynn pointed out that Stevens voted consistently against efforts to interject religion into public schools and to funnel tax aid to sectarian schools. He opposed government display of sectarian symbols on public property. At the same time, he was an ardent supporter of the free exercise of religion.
In 2002, Stevens issued a strong dissent from the high court’s ruling upholding voucher subsidies for private schools in Cleveland, noting that most of the public funds went to religious institutions. (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris)
“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,” Stevens wrote.
Lynn said Americans United will closely monitor the nomination process to ensure that Stevens’ replacement has the same regard for church-state separation.
Appointed by President Gerald R. Ford, Stevens has served on the Supreme Court since 1975.