A U.S. Senator Should Know Better

This post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the Secular Coalition for America.  He also blogs at Rant & Reason

I’ve been watching the confirmation hearing for Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  It’s of particular interest to the Secular Coalition because she’ll be replacing Justice David Souter, who was one of the staunchest defenders of the separation of church and state, but we don’t know her views.  We sent a letter to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to bring it up.

Ok, so I wasn’t really watching the speeches per se, I was more sort of listening while CSPAN was in another tab.  I perked up when I heard someone mentioning prayer.  Turns out it was Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  I tracked down his prepared statement, and it turns out to have been this gem:

We have seen federal judges force their own political and social agenda on the nation, dictating that the words “under God” be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance[2] and barring students from even silent prayer in schools.[3]

I’m dying to know what those footmarks are, because can’t find them actually citing anything.

Regarding [2], I assume he’s referring to Newdow’s famous case against Elk Grove.  It’s a bit of a stretch too say that their interpretation of the Establishment Clause is “forcing their own political and social agenda on the nation”, but at least I know what he’s talking about.  I think he’s wrong, but he’s in this version of reality.

But on [3], I really have no idea what he’s talking about.  I certainly haven’t heard of any cases of federal judges “barring students from even silent prayer in schools.”  Know why?  Because there are none.

My co-worker Mary made a good point to illustrate how false it must be: how would they enforce it?  I can just envision a teacher saying “You!  You look thoughtful and distant!  You’d better be daydreaming and not praying!”

Sigh.  This is just another example of people spreading misinformation about “those scary atheists”.  Except that this time it’s a senator making public comments on record.  Senator Sessions has a background in law, so one would expect him not to misrepresent court cases.  Wonderful.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • http://ordover.wordpress.com orDover

    The “silent prayer in schools” is probably referring to an organized “moment of silence.” There have been rulings against that, I believe.

  • Kahomono

    One would also expect Sen. Sessions not to have supported the KKK but then… sentences that begin “One would expect” frequently end in disappointment.

  • Tyler in SoCal

    Why would a moment of silence be banned? Arent they secular?

  • http://yrif.org Joel

    In re: moment of silence, he might be referring to this:

    http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/jan/21/news/chi-ap-il-momentofsilence

  • Me

    “We have seen federal judges force their own political and social agenda on the nation, dictating that the words “under God” be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance…”

    Made remarkably stupid by the fact that the phrase “under God” was inserted into the pledge of allegiance by people forcing their political and social agenda on the nation.

    Hell, my grandfather is older than the pledge of allegiance in its current form.

  • Gabriel

    Sessions knows that his voters in Alabama are poorly educated and easily frightned. His state is renowned for its terrible education system. He also know that the intelligient and well educated citisens of his state will never vote for him. So he doesn’t care. He can take advantage of the hoards of ignorant voters with outright lies and baseless scare tactics and ignore the insignicantly small portion of the Alabama electorate that is well educated and intelligient.

  • Miko

    Sessions is among the worst of the worst, in terms of U.S. politicians.

  • bob

    Personally, I think another 100 years should have to pass before any legislator from Alabama is permitted to even comment on what is fair, right, or legal.

  • Gabriel

    I am actually loving this. It is a great thing for the country to watch as old white southern men attack and tell lies about an exceptionally well educated judge. People will look at this and see beyond what Sessions is saying. They will see an old white bigot attacking a hispanic woman.

  • Nik in Toronto

    I am an atheist, but I’m not enthused by Sotomayer. People champion her purely on her biography rather than positions.
    Souter was great, but Obama’s hasn’t been a great secularist! He kept all the faith based stuff going and is staying the course on Iraq and plunging more troops in Afghanistan.

  • Closet Atheist

    Jeff Sessions is the brain-surgeon that came up with this little nugget:

    … and that the Democratic appointees were 13 percent more liberal than Republican appointees. Well, I don’t know, it’s not a huge difference, but the suggestion that — I would just make that for the record, and –

    For his next trick, he’ll find his butt with both hands and a flashlight.

  • http://joreth.livejournal.com/tag/atheist Joreth

    I like what my metamour had to say on the subject: “When’s the last time a white male supreme court nominee had to defend his ability to be objective in the face of his identity? Oh wait, never! Because white male perception = objective reality.”

    I really don’t know anything about either Sotomayer or Sessions, but I do know that white male conservative judges have never been asked “are you sure you can remain objective given your identity as a white male?”

    And the irony of insisting on objectivism and impartiality while referencing specific cases of political and religious agendas, teh irony, it burns!


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