Friday, November 25, 2005

Judge Alito on Religious Freedom of Speech

Up until now, the topic of debate on the matter of Judge Samuel Alito has been his supposed stance on abortion and predictions of his vote if a review of Roe vs. Wade should come before the Supreme Court again.

But a new subject is beginning to come to the forefront: an examination of Alito’s position on the so-called "separation of church and state."
There are long-running and contentious debates over the Constitution's requirement that Congress - and by extension all government - "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Alito would succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been keenly interested in religion cases and often provided the majority in 5-4 decisions based on her opposition to government actions that seem to endorse religion. That was so this year when a 5-4 majority outlawed a Kentucky Ten Commandments display (though the court allowed a Texas display, with O'Connor dissenting). has an interesting and timely article that suggests what we may expect of Judge Alito, should he be confirmed to the SCOTUS:
Over the course of his 15 years as a federal appellate judge, Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. consistently has given full effect to the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. C.H. v. Oliva, 226 F.3d 198 (3d Cir. 2000) (en banc), is a key case in which he refused to sanction the efforts of public school administrators to discriminate against religious speech.

In Oliva, an elementary school encouraged students to contribute to a Thanksgiving display on school property. In particular, the pupils were invited to make posters depicting the things for which they were thankful. One of the students, a Christian, decided to make a poster expressing his thanks for Jesus Christ. Although the school permitted the display of other students’ posters giving thanks for certain secular things, it barred the Christian student from displaying his poster expressing thanks for Jesus. The school also barred the student from reading religious-themed stories to his class, despite the fact that other students were permitted to read secular stories to their classes.

The en banc Third Circuit upheld the school’s decision to exclude the Christian poster and to bar the reading of Christian stories. In dissent, Judge Alito argues that the school had violated the First Amendment by discriminating against religious speech. According to Judge Alito, “public school students have the right to express religious views in class discussion or in assigned work.” Id. at 210. In particular, “the poster was allegedly given discriminatory treatment because of the viewpoint that it expressed, because it expressed thanks for Jesus, rather than for some secular thing. This was quintessential viewpoint discrimination, and it was proscribed by the First Amendment . . . .” Id. at 212.
The original wording in the US Constitution was intended just as it said – to prevent the government from establishing or endorsing a specific religion or sect, and in so doing discriminating against or even outlawing non-state-supported forms or expressions of religion. This was in direct response to the religious persecution many had faced in England, where the Church of England (Anglican Church) was endorsed by law to the exclusion/discrimination of Catholic, protestant and other believers. Our founding fathers wanted to make certain this sort of government discrimination did not hinder the freedoms of speech and religion they valued so much in this new world.

Even the venerated Father of our country, President George Washington, seemed to have no problem recognizing the role of religion in this new nation. In his very first Thanksgiving proclamation, back in 1789, Washington declared a special day of prayer and thanksgiving to Almighty God, as directed by Congress:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
But along the way, this clause intended to promote religious freedom has been twisted and deformed by liberal politicians and activist judges to deny people the very freedoms it was supposed to protect. It is time we return to the intent of the inspired writers of the Constitution, and take back the freedoms which were declared so many years ago:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Interestingly enough, these self-same liberals who guard so vehemently freedoms of speech and of the press, defined in the second half of the very first constitutional amendment, somehow cannot seem to see or remember the first right imparted to American citizens:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...
Thank you for your stand, Judge Alito. Please hold firm to that truth.


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