Bush Wants to Place Anti-Separationist Law Professor on Federal Court

Church & State, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Bush Wants to Place Anti-Separationist Law Professor on Federal Court


President George W. Bush has nominated a University of Utah law professor known for his strident hostility toward the separation of church and state for a seat on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bush announced the nomination of Michael W. McConnell May 9, despite the scholar's consistant opposition to First Amendment principles such as church-state separation. Americans United announced that same day that it will oppose the nomination.

"This nomination represents a terrible assault on American freedom by the Bush administration," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "McConnell's record is one of relentless hostility for individual rights. I urge the Senate to swiftly reject his nomination.

"McConnell is the Religious Right's dream court nominee," continued Lynn. "He's a conservative Christian, who's willing to use the force of government to impose his viewpoint."

Lynn noted that McConnell is a member of the Christian Legal Society, a board member of the right-wing Federalist Society and an advisor of the Becket Fund -- all groups seeking a radical abandonment of the Supreme Court's church-state doctrine.

The AU head charged that McConnell has a long record of extremism on a broad range of individual rights issues. He pointed to the following examples:

* McConnell called for a "radical" departure from decades of church-state separation rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in a March 11, 2000, interview with the Salt Lake Tribune and has indicated his support for school-sponsored graduation prayer, voucher subsidies for religious schools and charitable choice aid to ministries.

* In a Winter 1992 article in the University of Chicago Law Review, McConnell insisted that the Constitution allows broad public funding of religious institutions. "We must therefore reject the central animating idea of modern Establishment Clause analysis: that tax-payers have a constitutional right to insist that none of their taxes be used for religious purposes," he wrote.

* McConnell, writing in the Utah Law Review in 1999, described church-state separation as never having been a "plausible or attractive conception of proper relations between government and religion in the modern activist state."

* The New York Times Magazine on Jan. 30, 2000, reported McConnell as saying that religion cannot be separated from other areas of life, "Many people think that it's possible to have an entirely secular education and any religious training can be on the side. I don't believe that religion is something which is a separable aspect of life," he said.

* Writing in American Enterprise magazine in January of 1993, McConnell criticized Supreme Court rulings that upheld church-state separation, including Lee v. Weisman (1992), which prohibited government-sponsored prayer at public school graduation ceremonies, and County of Allegheny v. …

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