Judge Neil M. Gorsuch’s “one-sided view of religious freedom” makes the Supreme Court nominee a dangerous choice, said some religious liberty advocates after President Trump announced his choice to fill a vacancy on the top court Jan. 31.
But religious conservatives who have been hesitant to support the new president voiced pleasure with the nomination of Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge in Denver.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Gorsuch is the wrong person for this important job.
“Judge Gorsuch’s one-sided view of religious freedom is dangerous,” said AU Executive Director Barry Lynn.
In addition to his position birth control, AU disagreed with Gorsuch dissents in two opinions where the majority found that government-sponsored religious displays are unconstitutional.
In a case where the majority determined a Ten Commandments display on the lawn of an Oklahoma county courthouse to violate the Establishment Clause, Gorsuch contended that the Commandments aren’t “just religious” and could be construed to convey a “secular moral message.”
In another dispute over a practice of roadside memorials honoring fallen Utah Highway Patrol officers, Gorsuch contended displaying the cross — the preeminent symbol of Christianity — did not actually promote the religion.
“He has even suggested that the government should be able to endorse religion — a position that would radically change constitutional law,” said Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. “His rulings on church-state relations clash with what our country needs and wants.”
Meanwhile, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., who prior to the election described the choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton as “an excruciating moment for evangelicals,” said Tuesday night on Twitter he is “very encouraged” by Trump’s selection to fill a seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia nearly a year ago.
“Judge Gorsuch is committed to the same respectful approach to the U.S. Constitution that was the hallmark of the late Antonin Scalia,” Mohler said. “The nomination is right for the court and for this time.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Gorsuch “an exceptional choice” that “I heartily support.”
Moore, a vocal critic of Trump and his evangelical supporters throughout the campaign, called the Supreme Court nominee “a brilliant and articulate defender of Constitutional originalism in the mold of the man he will replace.”
“I look forward to Judge Gorsuch’s voice on the Court for decades to come and pray that he will be an articulate and stalwart advocate for religious liberty and human dignity at all its stages,” Moore said. “Along with Baptists and other believers around the country, I urge the Senate to confirm Judge Gorsuch without delay.”
Gorsuch, a member of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sided last year with religious groups including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in a dissenting opinion to a 5-4 ruling that requiring religious nonprofits to opt out of mandated contraceptive coverage under Obamacare is not a substantial burden on religious exercise.
“The opinion of the panel majority is clearly and gravely wrong — on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty,” the dissent read in part. “When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”
Last May the Supreme Court sent the case back to lower courts, avoiding a likely 4-4 deadlock on constitutional issues involved with the loss of a conservative majority when Scalia died Feb. 13.
“We just witnessed tonight one of the main reasons over 80% of evangelicals voted for POTUS,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins tweeted following the announcement. Hawkins said Goruch “was a solid constitutional religious liberty advocate” for plaintiffs including an order of Catholic nuns, and Southern Baptist organizations Oklahoma Baptist University, Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International.
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, released the following statement Jan. 31:
“President Donald Trump has taken the first step in returning the Court to full strength. We look forward to the opportunity to review Judge Neil Gorsuch’s record on church-state matters and hope that the Senate will take its responsibility seriously to evaluate him in the confirmation process.
“The Baptist Joint Committee does not support or oppose judicial nominees but seeks to educate the public about the Court’s role in upholding religious liberty for all people. A strong commitment to both protecting the free exercise of religion and preventing government establishment of religion is essential to upholding our constitutional commitment to America’s first freedom.”