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Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor Record Questioned on Issues of Religious Liberty

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The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin hearings this Monday to examine the qualifications of President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, federal jurist Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor currently serves on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a position she has held since 1998. Prior to that, Sotomayor served as a federal judge for the Southern District of New York for eight years.

Despite Sotomayor's extensive prior experience on the federal bench, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is calling on the members of the judiciary committee to question Sotomayor on issues relating to religious liberty and church-state separation. "If confirmed, Sotomayor will take the place of Justice David Souter, one of the strongest defenders of church-state separation ever to sit on the high court," Lynn remarked. "It is imperative that Souter's replacement adopt the same robust defense of the church-state wall."

Sotomayor's judicial record includes a number of rulings in areas such as prisoners' religious liberty rights, the display of religious symbols on public property and teacher-led prayer in public schools. However, "Sotomayor's church-state rulings are few in number," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, adding, "we need more information, and we're relying on the Judiciary Committee to get it."

Rev. Barry W. Lynn questions Sotomayor's judicial philosophy, specifically as relating to issues involving the interaction between church and state. Among them are:

1) Does she think the First Amendment builds a "wall of separation between church and state," as proclaimed by Thomas Jefferson and recognized by the Supreme Court?

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2) What is the nominee's view of the leading legal tests for determining church-state violations? and

3) Does Sotomayor believe that government can extend tax funding to religious entities and, if so, under what conditions?

Lynn said it is important that the committee question Sotomayor closely on these and other church-state matters. Americans United, he said, has taken no position on Sotomayor's nomination.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)

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