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Supreme Court loses its last Protestant

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

April 9th, 2010

John Paul Stevens, the US Supreme Court’s oldest and longest-serving justice, has announced that he will retire. And the President is undoubtedly already weighing potential replacements.

It is likely that President Obama will place diversity as a desirable attribute. The court currently contains its first (modern) Hispanic jurist, second African American jurist, and both second and third female jurists; for most of its history, the court has been comprised of white men. A candidate that further advances racial or gender diversity will be seen as a potential voice for excluded Americans.

Some may wonder if it is time for a gay or lesbian nominee. While I would love to think that possible, I doubt that this President will appoint a gay Supreme Court justice. Yet even the discussion over the possibility is good for our community.

But one thing I hope that this president considers – that will not likely get much attention – is religious diversity. Currently, the court has six Roman Catholics, two Jews, and the sole Protestant is Stevens who is now retiring.

This matters.

A great many cases that come before the SCOTUS involve issues of religious freedom or religious views. And Christianity is the dominant religion in this country.

But having only one brand of Christianity on the court yields only one perspective on what “Christianity” means. Even the most liberal of Catholics accepts as normal certain ideas that most Protestants reject. And without a Protestant voice on the court, the religious assumptions of the majority of Americans goes unstated.

As recent cases have revealed, the “orthodox Christian view” about homosexuality is relevant to whether laws are based in tradition and faith or in bigotry. In the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial, denominational stances were cited as evidence of a lack of (or presence of) animus. But if the only Christians on the court come from a faith that values hierarchy, church tradition, and doctrine handed down from a central authority, then testimony from affirming churches can seem rogue or heretic.

So without Stevens, the presumptions about Christianity on the court will be limited to those that come from being raised in (or converted to) Roman Catholicism. And I do not think that this is healthy and I hope that Obama considers this when making his final cut.

Comments

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Timothy Kincaid
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

p.s. and once “Christianity” is not by default Catholicism, I think we should consider including the perspective of an atheist or agnostic. Questions about religious presumption should not go unchallenged.

Aaron
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

Though I am Christian, I agree with Timothy that an atheist judge could be very good for the country. I would also favor a liberal protestant.

Neko
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

A gay Muslim should be in the cards. Just because it’d be awesome to see how many heads explode.

Seriously, though? I don’t want an Atheist… or Protestant… or even an Agnostic. I want someone who is free of religion entirely. There are a lot of Americans who identify as “non-religious”. Why can’t they have someone like them on their court?

Priya Lynn
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

Tell us Neko, what’s the difference between an atheist or agnostic and a non-religious person?

John
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

I am less concerned about the religion of the candidate. I am however concerned about the candidate’s respect for the separation of church and state. If they are clear on that principal, then it shouldn’t really matter one way or the other what religion they believe in, including no religion at all.

The Lauderdale
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

Guess it depends on how one defines “religious,” but I don’t think that “Atheist” or “Agnostic” are necessarily the same as non-religious. I have known numerous church-going examples of both.

Neko
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

Atheists deny the existence of a God. I guess you could say they’re kind of the anti-religion. Some are more extreme in this, and some are more mellow. Some will also say that they are Agnostic Atheists (don’t believe in God, but do question if it’s possible a God could exist).

Agnostic is a term that’s a bit more complicated than Atheist because it’s broader. At the most base level, it’s skepticism of things that can not be “known.” Agnostics are kind of the “questioning” section of religious belief. However, some Agnostics do believe in some form of God, and some even dabble in traditional religion (they’re known as Agnostic theists).

Non-religious people tend to be people who kind of… don’t care. They don’t think about religion in their daily lives, and don’t really have an opinion of God. Naturally, there is overlap again and here are some who say they do believe in God, but don’t actually act or think based on that belief. They don’t deny God or question God’s existence. They focus more on other aspects of life.

Of course, there can be even more overlap in all of these belief (or not belief) systems.

Robert
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

My personal definitions:
Atheist is my faith: I do not believe there is a god.
Agnostic is that piece of me that admits that I can’t be sure there is a god.

Burr
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

If anyone that was up for the opening actually gave a crap about the Constitution it wouldn’t matter whether they represented diversity or not.

Burr
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

By that I mean, it’s pretty pathetic that we have to depend on people to draw upon personal experience to reach a conclusion favorable to us when all we need the court to do is interpret the law literally instead of bringing nebulous “values” into it.

Patrick
April 9th, 2010 | LINK

Presidents are virtually always Protestant, Justices rarely are. Interesting.

I have no doubt I’ll be long dead before we have a glbt President or Justice.

Désirée
April 10th, 2010 | LINK

I believe the term Neko is looking for is “apatheist” – which is a person who doesn’t think the question of God’s existence is important or relevant to daily life. It is not a statement on the existence of a god, simply on his importance to our lives. An apatheist may or may not belief in God or a god or gods, but doesn’t believe that said gods have any impact on our daily existence. This is sometimes known as “practical atheism.”

Of course, there are also “theologival noncognativists” sometimes known as “igtheists” which is the belief that all other beliefs asume too much about the nature and identity of God. A theological noncognativist will say that you can not say if god exists or not because you can’t define what god is. They deny that “God exists” is a falsifyable statement.

A theist of any sort says it is a true statement. An atheist says it is a false statement. A noncognativist says it is a nonsense statement with no meaning whatsoever.

Either of which would be fine to have a judge in my book.

justsearching
April 10th, 2010 | LINK

It doesn’t seem that the faith that a justice professes has much affect on judicial decisions. An exception to this might be Antonin Scalia. I think one could be non-religious and still end up anywhere on the spectrum between conservative and liberal and between those who go with a literal understanding of the Constitution and those who try to determine the intentions of the framers. Religion is only one small factor to consider when choosing a justice.

Priya Lynn
April 10th, 2010 | LINK

Neko said “Atheists deny the existence of a God. I guess you could say they’re kind of the anti-religion…Non-religious people tend to be people who kind of… don’t care. They don’t think about religion in their daily lives, and don’t really have an opinion of God.”.

Atheists aren’t necessarily anti-religion, some are, many aren’t. Many atheists and agnostics don’t care about religion in their daily lives and don’t have an opinion on gods. If anyone is “free of religion” it is by definition atheists and agnostics. Many people who prefer to refer to themselves as “non-religious” are in fact atheists or agnostics but they feel those terms have a stigma attached to them and that’s why they don’t use them.

Jason D
April 10th, 2010 | LINK

Atheists deny the existence of a God. I guess you could say they’re kind of the anti-religion.
Actually, you’re mistaken. Having known many atheists they range from those who simply don’t believe — mostly because they don’t see any compelling evidence to support a belief — to those who firmly deny the existence or possibly existence of a God or Gods. Most atheists, if they were to someday be presented with factual, concrete evidence of a God or Gods, would be convinced and no longer be atheists. Of course then it would no longer be a matter of faith, it would be a matter of fact.

Because Atheism and agnosticism aren’t systems in and of themselves, they exist outside the system, you can’t go pinning them down by saying they’re anti-religion. The prefix “A” actually means “without” or “outside of”, don’t confuse it with “anti” which does mean “against”.

Priya nails it on the head as well.

John Doucette
April 10th, 2010 | LINK

It doesn’t really matter who Obama nominates as it has been reported that Congressional conservatives are gearing up to contest/block whomever he selects, for not other reason than being a**holes.

Eddie89
April 10th, 2010 | LINK

I would like to see a Humanist judge on the bench of the Supreme Court.

Bryan Cole
April 10th, 2010 | LINK

With Obama’s track record on LGBT issues, he’ll probably nominate a Mormon.

Swampfox
April 12th, 2010 | LINK

The current religion count is six Catholics, two Jews and one Protestant.

DN
April 12th, 2010 | LINK

What’s the percentage of the population that is atheist? I’ve seen numbers as high as 16%. With each Supreme Court justice comprising 11.1% of the court, there is some math to back up nominating an atheist =D

Quo
April 12th, 2010 | LINK

What, no concern about the lack of open atheists on the Supreme Court?

Timothy Kincaid
April 12th, 2010 | LINK

Quo,

I know it can be daunting to read all of the comments. But if you had gotten as far as the very first one you might have answered your own question.

Quo
April 12th, 2010 | LINK

I admit I didn’t read the comments, but can you blame me? Comments here generally tend to be tedious and predictable, so I skim. It’s interesting to see that you included the bit about atheists as a “ps” to your main post.

Burr
April 12th, 2010 | LINK

Comments here generally tend to be tedious and predictable

Pot. Meet kettle.

John
April 12th, 2010 | LINK

Regardless of their religious or non-religious backround, I am sure that none of the candidates under consideration would agree with Quo’s vigorous advocacy that parents have the right to have their children sexually abused.

What WASPs? «
May 17th, 2010 | LINK

[...] of the Supreme Court’s last Protestant with a non-Protestant. This historical oddity has provoked a few questions, but the ultimate answer by most commentators is that it probably doesn’t [...]

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