Oct 26, 2020

During the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett, the issue of church-state separation was in the national spotlight. Adding Barrett's extreme views to  the Supreme Court's conservative majority has implications that can affect the quality of life of many Americans in different ways. As members of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship, we offer our perspectives on how the disregard for church-state separation, unchecked religious extremism, and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court will affect the lives of diverse Americans. 

Katie Fleischer, Smith College

One thing has become very clear as Republican leaders rush to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court during the 2020 presidential election: They see religious freedom  as a weapon to use against me, my communities and anyone who has different moral beliefs than they do. As a queer woman, my existence, relationships and rights are constantly under attack from far-right groups, many of whom attempt to use their religious beliefs to legislate my community out of existence. 

Barrett is no exception. She has a history of being openly hostile toward LGBTQ people, and would likely vote to overturn the right to marriage equality, as well as LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. I spent the first 15 years of my life knowing that I wouldn’t be able to marry or start a family with a same-gender partner, before Obergefell v. Hodges. Barrett criticized that opinion, demonstrating she wants to return to that time and force millions of people back into the closet. Religious freedom is never an acceptable reason to discriminate against marginalized groups. 

Sophia Kics, University of Notre Dame

As a student at the University of Notre Dame, the same dangerous ideology that Barrett uses to interpret the law dictates the lives of myself and my peers on our campus. And I can attest that it doesn’t in any way, shape or form work for anyone. 

In addition to (unfortunately) being the institution from which Barrett graduated law school and taught for many years, the University of Notre Dame upholds a certain worldview that doesn’t represent the view of many of its students. From the incredibly well-funded DeNicola Center for Ethics and Culture that uses vague language around “morality” and “ethics” to advance an anti-abortion agenda, to the utter lack of sexual health resources on campus, and even to the admissions quota that requires a certain proportion of admitted students identify as Catholic and/or as legacies (i.e. wealthy and white), I think it is fair to say that this is the version of the United States that Barrett and her ideological base desire. Even more blatant evidence of their support for eroding church-state separation can be found in a tweet on Notre Dame’s official Twitter account praising the July 2020 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the Trump administration to permit employers and universities to cite their religious beliefs to deny workers and students birth control access. Notre Dame’s contained campus provides a terrifying example of what is to come across the United States if Barrett is to be confirmed to solidify a conservative Supreme Court. 

Claire Davidson Miller, Brown University

If I learned one thing from Barrett’s confirmation hearings, it was that neither she nor the Republican Senate majority attempting to push through her confirmation to the Supreme Court actually understands the meaning of religious freedom (ironically, a freedom guaranteed by the very court to which she will soon be confirmed). In four days of confirmation hearings, the only religious minority whose freedoms were even mentioned was the Jewish community, and even then only once. 

I am lucky to belong to strong Jewish communities and to religiously diverse communities which are supportive of my religious beliefs and practices. Yet, due to the distortion of religious freedom spurred by the kinds of political polemics exemplified by Barrett’s confirmation hearing, I am never allowed to forget that I am a minority. Furthermore, Barrett’s and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s deep misunderstanding of the meaning and uses of the First Amendment frightens me. How can I expect someone who clearly does not understand religious freedom to protect mine? Frankly, I don’t. And, if Barrett is confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land, I fear the future of religious freedom and protections for my Jewish community, our Muslim siblings, and other religious minorities.

Kevin Chisolm, Howard University

The separation of church and state is an important characteristic of a functioning democracy. A Supreme Court justice who would use religious freedom as a sword to harm others  puts millions of Americans at risk of losing not only their civil liberties, but their health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well, including its requirement of providing contraception. 

Of the 20 million Americans covered by the ACA, Black Americans have seen the largest drop in uninsured rates due to the law. During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Black Americans have seen disproportionately high infection rates of COVID-19. If the ACA is struck down by the Supreme Court this fall, it would disproportionately leave Black Americans without access to health care during one of the most dangerous stages of the pandemic. This is an example of how Supreme Court decisions can have life or death consequences for the most vulnerable in our society. We must be sure that those we put in positions of power and influence adhere to the important jurisprudential concept of separation of church and state. 

Bryant Nguyen, University of Central Florida

Barrett would greatly impact me as a gay Vietnamese person because I’ve had to have many rights granted to me through Supreme Court decisions, like my right to marry. One of the biggest economic privileges that heterosexual individuals had were tax incentives to marry, which were not granted to LGBTQ individuals. This blatant discrimination negatively impacted LGBTQ individuals who were already at an economic disadvantage. 

Not only would Barrett’s confirmation affect LGBTQ individuals, her decisions could also affect those with preexisting health conditions. During the Việt Nam war, the U.S. used a chemical herbicide called Agent Orange used to destroy Vietnam’s luscious forests. Today, millions of Vietnamese Americans are negatively impacted by the effects of Agent Orange, as are veterans and children being born today. Without the requirement for health care companies to cover those with preexisting conditions under the ACA, a lot of individuals impacted by this war would not be able to get health care coverage. Both the LGBTQ community and Vietnamese community will be negatively impacted by this regressive ideology. 

(PHOTO CREDIT: Screenshot from C-SPAN.)