The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Kagan joins liberal bloc but the Wall loses another brick

"Today’s decision devastates taxpayer standing in Establishment Clause cases."

Jackson Quote

"My evangelistic brethren confuse an objection to compulsion with an objection to religion. It is possible to hold a faith with enough confidence to believe that what should be rendered to God does not need to be decided and collected by Caesar." -Justice Jackson, Zorach v. Clauson, 1952.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Sotomayor Joins Liberal Bloc as SCOTUS upholds cross

Although on the losing side, Justice Sotomayor joined 4 Justices known to favor a strong Separation between Church and State. She joined Justice Stevens' dissenting opinion with whom Justice Ginsburg also joined stating the following:
In my view, the transfer ordered by §8121 would not end government endorsement of the cross for two independently sufficient reasons. First, after the transfer it would continue to appear to any reasonable observer that the Government has endorsed the cross, notwithstanding that the name has changed on the title to a small patch of underlying land. This is particularly true because the Government has designated the cross as a national memorial, and that endorsement continues regardless of whether the cross sits on public or private land. Second, the transfer continues the existing government endorsement of the cross because the purpose of the transfer is to preserve its display. Congress’ intent to preserve the display of the cross maintains the Government’s endorsement of the cross.
Summary of the break down by Justice:
Kennedy, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., joined, and in which Alito, J., joined in part. Roberts, C. J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sharp debate at high court over cross on US land

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the Supreme Court weighed a dispute over a religious symbol on public land Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia was having difficulty understanding how some people might feel excluded by a cross that was put up as a memorial to soldiers killed in World War I.

"It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead," Scalia said of the cross that the Veterans of Foreign Wars built 75 years ago atop an outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve. "What would you have them erect?...Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"

Peter Eliasberg, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer arguing the case, explained that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and commonly used at Christian grave sites, not that the devoutly Catholic Scalia needed to be told that.

"I have been in Jewish cemeteries," Eliasberg continued. "There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew."

There was mild laughter in the packed courtroom, but not from Scalia...

You can read the entire transcript of the oral arguments here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NPR: High Court Weighs Legality Of Memorial Cross

A white cross erected on a rock outcropping on federal land in California's Mojave Desert is at the heart of a Supreme Court case about the government's display of religious symbols.

Critics say the cross violates the Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion. The case will be argued Wednesday.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars' Death Valley post first built the cross at Sunrise Rock in 1934 to honor Americans who died in combat in World War I. The most recent version of the cross was erected 11 years ago by a man named Henry Sandoz.

Neither the VFW nor Sandoz ever owned the land where the cross is located — nor did they have permission to build on the land.

But in 1999, a Buddhist asked the National Park Service for permission to erect a Buddhist shrine on federal land near the cross. The agency refused, setting in motion a series of events in the courts and Congress, culminating in Wednesday's Supreme Court hearing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Justice Sotomayor's first Church and State decision: Salazar v. Buono (orals begin 10/07/2009)

On October 7th 2009 the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in what will be Justice Sotomayor's first Establishment Clause case as a Justice. This case is also a growing battleground in what already is a major fight involving all the usual groups aligning for and against this application of one of our most cherished and important legal principles, the Separation Church and State.

The Case:
Salazar v. Buono, 08-472

Petition for a writ of certiorari was granted by at least four Justices on Feb 23 2009.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ten Commandments removed from Jackson Co. courthouse

Displays of the Ten Commandments in the Jackson County Courthouse have been removed in an effort to help resolve a federal lawsuit.

The county has not filed a response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that says nine framed displays throughout the courthouse were a violation of First Amendment rights of co-plaintiff Eugene Phillips Jr.

Taking the displays down "will be a big step in getting that resolved," County Attorney George T. Hays said.

According to the lawsuit, Jackson Judge-Executive William O. Smith and the county fiscal court authorized the displays of the commandments in 1999 for "no secular purpose."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sotomayor, religious freedom and the great unknown

President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court has triggered considerable hand-wringing on both sides of the culture-war divide over the relationship between religion and government under the First Amendment.

Weeks before Obama's announcement, Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice launched a preemptive strike, warning his constituents that Sotomayor has a "very, very strict view of church-state separation." Advocacy groups on the left can only hope Sekulow is right. They worry that Sotomayor won't compensate for the loss of Justice David Souter, a reliable vote for a high wall of separation in case after case.

Souter and his fellow separationists didn't win often on the current Court, but they managed to score an occasional 5-4 victory.

Further thinning of their ranks would make it difficult, if not impossible, to muster five votes for a strict interpretation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Unless Sekulow has a secret document that will reveal all, Sotomayor's long judicial record on the U.S. District Court level and, since 1998, on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tells us next to nothing about how she views the relationship between church and state. On the establishment clause, she is the great unknown.