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.

Timothy Kincaid

April 9th, 2010

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.


April 9th, 2010

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.


April 9th, 2010

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

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


April 9th, 2010

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

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.


April 9th, 2010

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.


April 9th, 2010

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.


April 9th, 2010

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.


April 9th, 2010

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.


April 9th, 2010

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.


April 10th, 2010

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.


April 10th, 2010

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

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

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

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.


April 10th, 2010

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

Bryan Cole

April 10th, 2010

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


April 12th, 2010

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


April 12th, 2010

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


April 12th, 2010

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

Timothy Kincaid

April 12th, 2010


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.


April 12th, 2010

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.


April 12th, 2010

Comments here generally tend to be tedious and predictable

Pot. Meet kettle.


April 12th, 2010

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.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.