John Roberts Attacked Religious Liberty in Schools
George W. Bush seems to have picked John Roberts to nominate to the Supreme Court largely because Roberts has so little experience as a judge. John Roberts has only served as a judge for two years. The rest of his professional experience is as a lawyer, working for private and for government clients. The Bush Administration is betting that the Senate Republicans will be able to fix the rules of the confirmation hearings so that only materials from his short time on the bench will be admissible.
Of course, we here at Irregular Times cannot do anything to stop the Republicans who control the United States Senate from setting whatever kind of stilted, biased rules they want. All we can do to bring the Republican Senators to account is to encourage that they be replaced in the 2006 congressional elections. Even though it is impossible for us to affect the Republican Senators’ actions, it is still important that the American public know the truth about John Roberts. For that reason, I will be bringing specific information about the controversial past of John Roberts to the attention of our readers over the next few days.
Today, we’ll start with the involvement of John Roberts in a specific case, Lee v. Weisman, in 1992. Through his involvement in this case, John Roberts worked to help establish mandatory religious worship as a part of the public school experience.
In the 1992 case Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 , John Roberts filed an amicus brief arguing that public schools ought to have the power to include acts of religious worship in public school graduation programs. The specific public school graduation program being considered in this particular case included acts of religious worship that included the perspective of Judaism and Christianity, but excluded any other religious perspective. Students belonging to religious traditions other than Judaism and Christianity were not allowed the privilege of having the graduating students and families participate in their own acts of religious worship.
Secular students and their familes were compelled, along with their neighbors who practice minority religions, to participate in the religious ritual during the graduation program. The only way for these students and their families to avoid participating in the religious ritual was for them to leave the graduation ceremony, and not be able to take part in the ceremony at all. If a public school student wished to take part in the official public school graduation ceremony, he or she would be forced by the school to take part in a ritual of religious worship , submitting to the authority of the religious tradition endorsed by the public school officials, even if that student was not an adherent of that religion.
In this way, the religious worship at the center of the public school graduation ceremony separated students and their families into two groups. One group, the adherents of Judaism and Christianity, were given the special privilege of having the graduation feature worship in suppport of their religious tradition. Another group, those who were not followers of Judaism or Christianity, were given a second class status. The best this second group could do would be to shut up and participate in the religious worship of the first group without complaining.
The brief filed by John Roberts supported the contention that it should be legal for public schools to give special privileges to the followers of certain religions, and relegate everyone else to second class status. The suggestion of the brief that John Roberts filed in this case was that parents of a public school student could not have the right to ask for a graduation program without such forced religious worship – even if their family was not a part of the religion endorsed in the public school religious ceremony.
So what’s the big deal if people are forced to participate in a little religious ritual as part of a graduation ceremony? Well, it’s not a big deal, so long as you’re a member of the religion being endorsed by the school. Most Christians students and their parents would have a fit, of course, if they were compelled to participate in, or even sit still for, a Wiccan ritual as a part of a public school’s graduation ceremony. The legal opinion of John Roberts includes the implicit argument that the majority religion in a community gets to impose its beliefs and religious practices on non-believers, and to do so with government assistance through institutions like public schools.
If you allow the legal opinion of John Roberts to go through the courts, then selective prayers for certain government-endorsed religions become permissible. Compulsive religious ceremonies to worship special privileged deities would become legal. There would be nothing to stop imposition of religious worship through local government. Local laws could give taxpayer funds to the government’s favorite churches, and town boards could pass regulations compelling religious minorities and secular citizens to take part in the religious rites of their community’s religious majority.
The last time this sort of thing was allowed in America, religious minorities and non-believers were burned at the stake and hung from nooses in town squares. That’s the kind of America that the legal philosophy of John Roberts leads to.
The looming threat of American theocracy is just one of the many reasons we oppose the confirmation of John Roberts. For more information on the dangerous views of John Roberts, visit the new John Roberts section on Supreme Court Watch.