Watchdog Group Says Nominee’s Views On Religious Freedom Are Too Extreme
Neil Gorsuch’s extreme views on separation of church and state make him unfit for a position on the U.S. Supreme Court, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Gorsuch, currently a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the high court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February of 2016.
Americans United says Gorsuch is the wrong person for this important job.
“Judge Gorsuch’s one-sided view of religious freedom is dangerous. He has even suggested that the government should be able to endorse religion—a position that would radically change constitutional law,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “His rulings on church-state relations clash with what our country needs and wants.”
Lynn cited two specific areas of concern:
Access to Medical Services: In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, non-profit organizations challenged a federal policy that allowed them to opt out of providing insurance coverage for birth control in employee health care plans. Under the accommodation, an entity has only to state its objection in writing, and the government will arrange for a third party to pay for and provide the coverage instead. Some groups insisted that the mere act of requesting the accommodation violated their religious freedom. A majority of the 10th Circuit rejected this claim, but Gorsuch sided with the dissenters in arguing that even filling out a form to get the accommodation substantially burdened religious exercise.
Government-Sponsored Religious Displays: In two cases, Gorsuch disagreed with majority opinions and argued that government-sponsored religious displays were constitutional.
Gorsuch dissented in Green v. Haskell County Board of Commissioners, a case challenging a Ten Commandments display on the lawn of an Oklahoma county courthouse. The 10th Circuit struck down the display, but Gorsuch contended that the Commandments aren’t “just religious” and could be construed to convey a “secular moral message.”
Gorsuch also dissented in American Atheists v. Davenport, which challenged a practice of memorializing fallen Utah Highway Patrol officers by erecting, on the side of state highways, 12-foot-tall crosses bearing the Highway Patrol’s symbol. Gorsuch contended that the Highway Patrol could allow a non-profit group to erect the crosses on public property. In his view, these preeminent symbols of Christianity did not actually promote Christianity. He went on to question whether it should even be unconstitutional for the government to endorse religion.
These rulings, Americans United says, indicate that Gorsuch has little respect for the separation of church and state.
“Our nation needs a Supreme Court justice who respects real religious freedom and appreciates the role church-state separation plays in protecting the rights of all Americans, religious and non-religious,” said Lynn. “Gorsuch is not likely to be that justice. The Senate should reject his nomination.”