Next Supreme Court justice:
a protestant, an atheist?

The Washington Post asks

Does President Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee need to be a Protestant?

Catholics became a majority of the nine-member court in 2006 with the confirmation of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Sonia Sotomayor made it six last summer. And the other two justices besides Stevens are Jewish.

But if the statistics are easy to assemble, the answer to the question “So what?” is elusive.

What do you think? Should religion be considered in appointment to the Supreme Court? Would an openly atheist person be considered?

Some more on the religion of some of the justices below – did you know Justice Breyer’s daughter is an Episcopal priest?

Scalia has said he would be “hard-pressed to tell you of a single opinion of mine that would have come out differently if I were not Catholic.” Ginsburg has said that whereas her predecessors on the court have been known collectively as the “Jewish justices,” she and Breyer are “justices who happen to be Jews.”

Each justice’s religious experience is unique, of course. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his wife Jane are said to be devout; their well-dressed family was in the front row when Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at Nationals Park in 2008. Friends described Sotomayor at the time of her nomination as not particularly active in the church.

Justice Clarence Thomas’s spiritual journey includes a formative experience in Catholic schools in Georgia, a short stint at a seminary studying for the priesthood, a time with an evangelical Christian congregation (CANA in Truro) and a return to Catholicism in the mid-1990s.

Ginsburg has said she is not an observant Jew, and traces the distance to when she was 17, and her mother died. Although there was “a house full of women,” Ginsburg said, Jewish law required 10 men to convene a minyan, or communal prayer.

Breyer was raised in a Jewish household in San Francisco, but he was married in an Anglican ceremony and has a daughter who is an Episcopal priest.

Such diversity makse religious labels at best incomplete. “Just because there is a disproportionate number of Catholics on the court doesn’t mean that you will know how the decisions will come down,” said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at the Cardozo Law School in New York, who has written extensively about religion and the court.

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