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Supreme Disappointment

The Supreme Court is designed to be the most impartial institution ever conceived by human beings. Even though presidents who represent particular political parties appoint individuals who represent their perspectives, the justices maintain their objectivity when ruling on the law of the land.

Well, not all the time. And definitely not lately.

The recent decision overturning Roe v Wade didn’t surprise me. It saddened me, but surprise?  No. donald trump pandered to the evangelical vote by promising to seat conservative justices on all the courts, and he kept that promise. During his tenure, he appointed three Supreme Court Justices and 258 lower court judges.

Remember how Mitch McConnell blocked Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to succeed Antonin Scalia, arguing that “the American people should have a voice in the decision”? Scalia had died nine months before the 2016 election, and trump got to appoint Neil Gorsuch. Brazenly ignoring his own so-called principle four years later, McConnell pushed through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than two months before the 2020 election.

Who among us paid attention to any of those appointments other than to the Supreme Court? Guess what? They all serve for life.

I can’t blame all the justices on trump. The elder Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to succeed Thurgood Marshall. Bush the Younger nominated Samuel Alito to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor and John Roberts to succeed William Rehnquist as Chief Justice.

Alito’s career has been unremarkable until Roe v Wade. Who had heard Clarence Thomas’s voice since the Anita Hill hearings until he delivered his decision on gun control in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and God-knows-where-else! In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v Bruen, Thomas’s majority opinion struck down New York’s strict limits on concealed carry, thus rendering most of the nation’s gun control laws unconstitutional. Before June 23, 83 million people lived in states with stringent limits on concealed carry. After Bruen, none do. Welcome to Texas. Moreover, courts may no longer cite the lethality of a particular weapon in upholding gun control laws. Our lives are not protected by the second amendment, but an AK-47 is.

Perhaps the Supremes thought their decision on Bruen and Roe v Wade would so arouse the country on both sides of the debate that its other decisions concerning religious freedom would go unremarked.

Wrong.

On June 21, the conservative majority overturned a lower court ruling that had rejected the claims of religious discrimination by two families challenging a Maine tuition program that requires eligible schools be “nonsectarian,” excluding those promoting a particular religion and presenting material “through the lens of that faith.” Though Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Maine’s program “operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise,” the reality is that the program upholds the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which the Supreme Court has not.

The schools in question describe themselves as seeking to instill a “Biblical worldview” in students. They refuse to hire gay teachers or admit gay and transgender students. Bangor Christian Schools teaches that a “husband is the leader of the household” and includes a class in which students learn to “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of God’s Word.”

This is not my Biblical worldview.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey called it “disturbing that the Supreme Court found that parents also have the right to force the public to pay for an education that is fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear … Maine’s law may need changes to “ensure that public money is not used to promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.”  And violate the First Amendment.

I wonder if the justices would be so sanguine if the schools demanding public funds were yeshivas or ashrams.

On June 27, the Court ruled that a public high school football coach can pray at the 50-yard line after games, arguing that his actions were not “problematically coercive.” Justice Neil Gorsuch maintained that “[t]he prayers for which Mr. Kennedy was disciplined were not publicly broadcast or recited to a captive audience. Students were not required or expected to participate.”

No, your Honor. They were spoken in a huddle after the game. In what locker room or on what sports field do student athletes not feel required, expected, or coerced to follow their coach’s lead?

Again, I don’t imagine that we’re hearing a ‘Kyrie Eleison’, a Muslim ‘Dua’, or ‘Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam’ on the 50-yard line.

I’ve always felt that the first amendment to the Constitution properly announced to the world who we are as a nation:  free speech, free press, free assembly, free exercise of religion with “no establishment thereof.”

Now I’m not so sure.

 

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