Clues on Roberts' Church-State Views

Excerpts from amicus briefs in church-state cases filed while Roberts was Deputy Solicitor General.

When Judge John G. Roberts was Deputy Solicitor General under President George H.W. Bush, he co-authored amicus briefs stating the government position in two major Supreme Court cases dealing with freedom of religion. While these briefs don't necessarily reveal Roberts' personal positions on church-state separation, his reasoning in them may offer clues to how he would rule in church-state cases as a Supreme Court justice. In the

Lee v. Weisman

brief, the government argued that public high schools should be allowed to holdreligious ceremonies as part of graduation ceremonies. The Supreme Court rejected this position. In the

Mergens v. Westside Community School District

brief, the government argued that public schools could not bar religious groups from meeting on school grounds because this would violate the Equal Access Act. The Supreme Court sided with the government's position.

Read excerpts from the briefs here.

  • Lee v. Weisman
  • Mergens v. Westside Community School District

    Excerpt: Brief in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992)
    We believe that evidence, including that adduced in Marsh andLynch, shows that the Framers fully assented to the appearance ofnon-coercive religious practices in civic life. To focus, as thelower courts have done, on the fact that the specific type of ceremonyat issue did not exist when the Constitution was adopted is to blindoneself to the broader truth on which Marsh was founded: that publicceremonial acknowledgments of religion were welcomed by the Framersand are deeply rooted in the Nation's heritage. /17/ Indeed, historysuggests that listening to a religious invocation at a civic ceremonywas seen not as an establishment of religion by the government but, onthe contrary, as an expression of civic tolerance and accommodation toall citizens. /18/


    Moreover, acceptance of religious references at civic ceremoniesreflects only part of the substantial historical evidence thatreligious coercion was the essence of what the Establishment Clausewas designed to prevent. See County of Allegheny v. American CivilLiberties Union, 109 S. Ct. at 3135-3138 (Kennedy, J., concurring inthe judgment in part and dissenting in part); American JewishCongress v. City of Chicago, 827 F.2d 120, 135-137 (7th Cir. 1987)(Easterbrook, J., dissenting); McConnell, Coercion: The Lost Elementof Establishment, 27 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 933 (1986). Historicalmaterials suggest that the presence of religion in public life was notgenerally considered offensive at the time of the Framing and indeedwas often welcomed so long as that presence was not coercive and notpart of an estblishment of an official church. /19/

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