June 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Americans United has expressed opposition to President Donald Trump’s nomination of Justin R. Wal­ker to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, citing concerns over Walker’s views on church-state separation.

Walker, currently a federal judge in Kentucky, recently granted a temporary restraining order to block the mayor of Louisville from preventing a church from holding drive-in Eas­ter services despite the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Americans United, the ruling wasn’t even necessary. The city never intended to bar drive-in services. Walker ignored that fact and wrote a 20-page opinion with 86 footnotes containing a lot of bombastic, unfounded assertions, including a claim that the city had tried to criminalize the celebration of Easter.

What really happened is that the mayor of Louisville had temporarily suspended mass gatherings, whether secular or religious, to prevent the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, in his opinion, Walker took potshots at non-religious people and non-Christians, whom he implied don’t understand religious freedom as well as Christians.

During a May 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Walker asserted that the First Amendment requires the government to fund religious activities with taxpayer dollars – an extreme view that, if adopted, would tear down the church-state wall and open the floodgates to all kinds of public funding for religious activities, from constructing churches to paying for religious education.

Walker also praised the church-state views of Justice Brett Kava­naugh, who has called the metaphor of a church-state wall “wrong as a matter of law and history.”

Americans United’s Public Policy Department sent a letter to Judiciary Committee urging its members to vote against elevating Walker to the D.C. Circuit Court.

“Confirming a judge who fails to recognize the protections afforded by the separation of church and state could have real and troubling consequences for people who most need the safeguards guaranteed by the First Amendment,” observed AU’s letter. “Judge Walker will bring his problematic views of the scope of the First Amendment to any religious freedom cases that come before the D.C. Circuit. It is also concerning that he could come to new cases without an open mind, appearing already committed to ruling according to his views that laws guaranteeing access to health care and nondiscrimination burden religious exercise.”