Current Justices Make Up the Most Pro-Religious Freedom Court
Tuesday, in the case of Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court struck down a Maine law that blocked taxpayer-funding of religious school tuition. Chief Justice John Roberts’s court has ruled in favor of religious groups in more than eight out of every 10 cases it has heard.
A report by two law professors, Lee Epstein of Washington University in St. Louis and Eric Posner at the University of Chicago, assesses the pro-religion outcome in religion cases for chief justices between 1953 and 2020.
Since Roberts assumed the role of chief justice in 2005, the court has ruled in favor of religious organizations in orally argued cases 83% of the time. This makes the Roberts court the most favorable to religious freedom since the 1950s. By comparison, Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s court ruled in favor of religious cases 58% of the time.
Family Research Council’s research fellow for Legal and Policy Studies, Katherine Johnson, said, “It’s really not a surprise to me. This has been a more conservative-leaning court that Justice Roberts has happened to be leading. And the justices, the majority of justices on the court, seem to be very keen on protecting the religious liberties of Americans, especially minority religions.”
In the study, Epstein and Posner explain that the rise in pro-religious freedom cases is linked to the justices appointed by Republican presidents.
“The justices who are largely responsible for this shift are Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh,” the study’s authors wrote. “While there are some differences among these justices, and Kavanaugh has been involved in only a handful cases, they are clearly the most pro-religion justices on the Supreme Court going back at least until World War II.”
In Carson v. Makin, the court ruled that Maine must not exclude religious schools from a state tuition program. The vote was 6-3 with the three liberal justices in opposition.
“This just shows that even some of the more moderate justices like Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Roberts saw this as a clear infringement on the rights of those parents in Maine,” said Johnson. “It is really a win for freedom of choice and for religion in America.”
Johnson emphasized that the nation is undergoing “increasing secularism and pressure” to conform to the secular agenda. She is appreciative that the justices are protecting religious liberties.
However, in the fight to protect religious freedom, multiple right-wing justices have had their safety, lives, and families threatened. Johnson believes the Dobbs case is an opportunity for the court to stand firm.
“The court has a really important job with Dobbs to set a precedent in saying that even though you don’t like the outcome of our case, you cannot leak the opinion, you cannot threaten violence, threaten our lives, and then end up being successful in your goal and getting the result that you want,” said Johnson. “The Supreme Court staying strong and overturning Roe will show the American public — and particularly the far-left extremists — that threatening their lives is not going to be successful.”
Deborah Laker serves as a staff writer at The Washington Stand.