A High Court with No Protestants


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan made the rounds in Washington this week, introducing herself to the senators who will vote on her confirmation as the newest justice on the High Court. Special interest groups, many of them religious, are already urging specific lines of questioning for the upcoming hearings. If she is confirmed, Kagan would become the third Jewish justice and the third woman on the current court.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (at announcement of Supreme Court nomination): A court that would be more inclusive, more representative, more reflective of us as a people than ever before.

post-elenakaganABERNETHY: Kagan’s confirmation would also mean that for the first time in American history the Supreme Court would have no Protestants. Does this matter? If so, what does it say about the place of Protestantism in America today? Joining me is Kim Lawton, our managing editor. Kim, I want to have a little discussion about this. People are saying, Protestants are saying, well, yes, this is a big symbol and they’re sad about it, of declining Protestant influence in this country. But at the same time I hear other people saying it’s really good news, because it is a symbol of how far the country has come in overcoming the anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish prejudice that existed for so long—still exists, but there’s been a lot of progress made on that. And they also say it matters a lot more what somebody thinks, a Supreme Court justice thinks, on a particular issue than what kind of religious label that person wears. You hear that?

KIM LAWTON, managing editor: Well, it is interesting. I mean, nobody is saying that she shouldn’t be confirmed because it throws the religious balance of the court out, or anything like that, but it has been a very interesting moment to take stock of this change in our society. But, yeah, what I’m hearing from people, what I heard from one Protestant pastor this week was he said to me I’m less concerned about her religious affiliation than I am about how she’s going to vote on, for example, some of the religion cases, and certainly that those ideas of the separation of church and state and what kind of relationship the government and religion should have—that’s been very controversial. There have been some very close decisions on the court, and so what she thinks about that, for example, is going to have a big impact no matter what kind of religious label she carries.

ABERNETHY: Yeah. There’s also this idea that has been spoken of this week sometimes about a Protestant worldview and how it’s important—Protestants after all are half the country, 51 percent, but still pretty close to half—that there is such a thing as a Protestant worldview and that this needs to be represented on the court. But is there such a thing as a Protestant worldview anymore?

LAWTON: Well that’s been really interesting for me this week to watch or to read what some people are saying just in terms of that notion. Of course people’s faith, their beliefs affect their worldview, affect how they look at things, their values. But is there a uniquely Protestant worldview in this kind of situation? There are certainly a lot of different kinds of Protestants, and even when the court had all Protestants they didn’t have all unanimous decisions, so I do think it’s been an interesting question that’s been raised.

ABERNETHY: And it doesn’t mean that there can’t ever in the future be another Protestant justice.

LAWTON: Well, certainly the Protestant influence in America is not going anywhere. I mean, our president is Protestant, we’ve only had one non-Protestant president, the majority of the US Congress is Protestant. Protestants still are a vibrant community in this country and still very influential, but things are different than they used to be.

ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton, many thanks.

  • Mike Newdow

    You present the views of those who bemoan the passing of Protestantism and those who celebrate the “diversity” of our Supreme Court. Yet, to Atheists, there is has been no change. We still have nine people who believe in God, and have a “Monotheistic world view.”

  • Thomas Robinson

    I believe that the faith of those on the US High Court will always understand and embrace the Protestant worldview no matter their affiliation, because of the influence of Christianity and rules of moralty that prevades our nation. Not many can escape the perceived notion that there is a higher authority even than those on the court when it comes to the laws of this land. We protestants who know the history of this great nation are not uncomfortable with diversity because that is where Christ and his disciples sought to find new converts and where they became socially conscious.

  • Todd

    The individual Catholic and Jewish Justices probably are more representative of diverse American thought than their following some “official” faith’s world view. So, I have no problem with this whole scenario, or the alleged lack of a Protestant view on the Court. .

  • Channah

    Catholics have ruined the balance of the Court. Tho they should go by the law and the Constitution, I fear their religion will taint their rulings. Jewish Justices will represent the whole, as the Christian religion came from it -it carries the background of all Christian religions.

  • Barbara

    Just goes to show how as Thomas indicated, that Protestants world view is tollerant and respectful of all peoples (wwjd). I pray that whomever id Justice, that they all make the best possible decisions for all people, even those who cannot see beyond themselves.

  • Jarod

    I find it amazing that Religion and Ethics has never covered the ecumenical work of the Manhattan Declaration (http://manhattandeclaration.org/the-declaration/read.aspx).

    In general, Religion and Ethics shows no sensitivity to the diversity of Protestant Christians nor to the origins of protestantism.

    Generally speaking, the Liberal movement in Protestant Christianity, which begun around the Romantic era, carried to its logical extension the basic premises of the reformers, most especially Luther: individual experience is inviolable and the ultimate criterion of what saves, i.e., the experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ironically, this perspective ultimately eviscerated protestantism of Christianity’s doctrinally rich self-understanding, i.e., about sin, salvation in Christ, moral order, etc.

    What you have today, in so-called mainline protestantism, is secularism encoded with some religious banalities. St. Paul would be ferociously upset to see the way so many “Christians” (including politically influential Catholics) have yielded to the fashions of the age.

    If there are no more Protestants on the Supreme Court… it’s because there are so few Protestants.

  • Joan

    Religion is irrelevant unless it is embraced through a true and genuine faith – in my case, Jesus Christ. I pray that Kagan’s faith is genuine and she will make decisions based on the foundation of the Judeo-Christian principles in which she believes. I didn’t grow much in my faith until I went “outside the box” of a denomination where I was not restrained by heritage and tradition. An Oklahoma rancher, Les Feldick, taught me more about the Bible and genuine faith in the last 15 yrs. than I learned in 45 previous years as a pastor’s wife in a denomination. If you believe in the Apostle Paul’s gospel of grace (I Corin. 15:1-4), God will put you in the right Bible believing church and guide you with His wisdom and discernment through all the false facades of politicians but it takes courage, boldness and persecution. Only a true faith can give you these.

  • Jsmith

    Ok…not sure what the big deal is. Latter Day Saints have been waiting since 1830l When will our day come?

  • Marko

    I’m glad there is no atheist. A philosophical position that believes that one comes from nothing, is nothing, and goes to nothing, cannot respect anything. At its best Atheist morality borrows heavily from faith based morals, minus the deity. At its worst it gives you the horrors of communist regimes. Catholic and Protestant views of freedom differ greatly. There was, and is, good reason to be concerned with greater Catholic influence. In Catholicism the Pope is head of religious and secular powers. It was only through the reformation that this was undone. People came to America to escape the abuses of tyrannical religious powers, and found freedom to worship or not worship as each man and woman saw fit. That is a Protestant concept.

  • Molly Ritcher

    The Founding Fathers said, (paraphrasing) “there should be NO religious test to sit on the Supreme Court”
    so it is absolutely no factor whatsoever that there are no Protestants there.