This past week, the Supreme Court heard arguments for why one New York town should be able to start off local legislative meetings with Christian prayers.
At one point, Justice Antonin Scalia, a devout Catholic, asked the obvious question, “What is the equivalent of prayer for somebody who is not religious?”
The lawyer who was currently making his case, Thomas Hungar, was having difficulty giving a good answer to the question when Justice Stephen Breyer stepped in with his own answer.
“Perhaps he’s asking me that question and I can answer it later,” said Breyer, who seemed to think that Justice Scalia had directed that question at him.
Now, atheist groups are taking Breyer’s statement as a possible admission that he is in fact an atheist. Spokeswoman for the American Humanist Association Maggie Ardiente says that it may show Breyer’s beliefs, or, it could mean he is simply willing to be a voice for atheists who are so rarely represented in these situations.
“Elected leaders should not be in the business of leading Americans in prayer, which excludes those who are non-religious," said Ardiente. "It's a great sign that Justice Breyer seems to be willing to talk to other members of the court to help explain objections non-theists may have to any potential decision. And, if Justice Breyer is nonreligious himself, it's a great time to 'come out.' He's in good company with nearly 20 percent of the population claiming no religious affiliation."
The affiliations of the Supreme Court Justice vary, with six Catholics and three Jews currently ruling in the highest court.