Justice John Paul Stevens: A Stalwart Defender of the Church-State Wall

Article excerpt

Justice John Paul Stevens, who has served his country admirably on the Supreme Court since 1975, announced his retirement last month. At age 90, Stevens is capping a remarkable career, one marked by his steadfast devotion to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.

One of those principles is the separation of church and state. Stevens' support for this principle is legendary, and throughout his career he was a reliable supporter of Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state. Stevens opposed government aid for religious schools and other institutions, voted against religious coercion in public schools and warned of the dangers of symbolic endorsement of religion by government.

Stevens, appointed by President Gerald Ford, knew that where church and state are joined, inter-religious strife and suppression of minority rights often follow.

When the high court upheld Ohio's voucher subsidies for religious schools in 2002, Stevens was dismayed.

"Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundations of our democracy," he warned. …