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Dissertation Abstract

Witnessing Their Faith. Religious Influences on the Supreme Court Justices and Their Opinions

Jay Alan Sekulow
Regent University

The purpose of this dissertation is to determine the impact that the religious faith of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States had on their Establishment Clause jurisprudence. In the area of church-state relations, the Court has issued confusing, conflicting and, at times, perplexing decisions. To fully comprehend the religion cases in an appropriate historical context, an understanding of the background of each of the Justices, their religious beliefs and traditions, as well as the theological disputes in existence at the time will provide a framework to analyze this area of jurisprudence. In addition to the Court's opinions, the extra-judicial writings of the Justices and commentaries issued during their tenure on the Court were utilized.

This dissertation suggests that the opinions of the Justices reflect not only an analysis of legal theories supporting the decisions, but also reflect the religious beliefs and influences of the individual Justices. The religious influences on the Justices significantly impacted their decisions. Whether the issue the Court was dealing with concerned slavery, Bibles in school, or polygamy, each Justice's opinion reflected the denominational stance of the Justice's personal religious commitment.

Two religious denominations, the Unitarians and the Southern Baptists, have had a significant impact on the Court and its cases. Justice Samuel Freeman Miller, who authored the Court's first opinion concerning religious autonomy, served as the President of the National Unitarian Conference. Justice Hugo Black was raised a Southern Baptist and was heavily influenced by Unitarian theology. Both the Unitarians and the Southern Baptists advocated a strict separation of church and state framework. Anti-Catholic sentiment within the Unitarians and Southern Baptists led to both denominations advocating a strict church-state separation model.

As established here, justice is never truly blind. The backgrounds and faiths of the Justices and the religious controversies of their day are reflected in the opinions of the Court. This dissertation demonstrates one inescapable point: the Justices' Establishment Clause opinions were impacted by both their religious background and faith and the religious controversies underlying them.