Justice Stevens and the Separation of Church and State

The Center For Inquiry pays tribute to retiring Justice John Paul Stevens for his record of affirming the necessity of a wall between church and state:

He was a stalwart defender of church-state separation, and through his persuasive powers he was often able to garner a Court majority to support a proper reading of the Establishment Clause. Even when he was not successful, his dissents often took perfect aim at the flaws in the prevailing opinion. In the Zelman case, which upheld government-funded vouchers that could be used for parochial schools on the ground that the students’ parents, not the government, were choosing to support the schools, Stevens pointedly observed in his dissent that that “the voluntary character of the private choice to prefer a parochial education over an education in the public school system seems to me quite irrelevant to the question whether the government’s choice to pay for religious indoctrination is constitutionally permissible.” In the same opinion, Justice Stevens also underscored the importance of church-state separation: “Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundations of our democracy.”

We will miss Justice Stevens. We can only hope that his replacement will be as strong an advocate of our constitutional rights.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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