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Religion in Society

Sotomayor's Church-State Views Still a Mystery

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State today reiterated its call for the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on issues relating to religious liberty and church-state separation.

The committee is scheduled to begin hearings on Sotomayor on Monday. In advance of that, Americans United has released a report listing Sotomayor’s rulings on church-state issues.

“Sotomayor’s church-state rulings are few in number,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “We need more information, and we’re relying on the Judiciary Committee to get it.”

AU’s examination of Sotomayor’s record found rulings in areas such as prisoners’ religious liberty rights, the display of religious symbols on public property and teacher-led prayer in public schools.

Americans United has asked Judiciary Committee members to question Sotomayor on several overarching points to better determine her church-state philosophy. Among them are:

  • Does she think the First Amendment builds a “wall of separation between church and state,” as proclaimed by Thomas Jefferson and recognized by the Supreme Court?
  • What is the nominee’s view of the leading legal tests for determining church-state violations?
  • Does Sotomayor believe that government can extend tax funding to religious entities and, if so, under what conditions?

Lynn said it is important that the committee question Sotomayor closely on these and other church-state matters.

Americans United, he said, has taken no position on Sotomayor’s nomination.

“If confirmed, Sotomayor will take the place of Justice David Souter, one of the strongest defenders of church-state separation ever to sit on the high court,” Lynn remarked. “It is imperative that Souter’s replacement adopt the same robust defense of the church-state wall.”

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