Faith of High Court Nominee Not Big Issue for Many Protestants

Protestant Christians are making it clear that they have no problem with a Protestant-less Supreme Court, though they admit that such an event would be a bit odd considering the majority of the nation's population is Protestant.

From laymen to lawyers, pastors to theologians, Protestant Christians stress that there are other factors more important than whether or not a court nominee is of the Protestant faith – especially since a person's religion does not necessarily dictate his or her stance on issues.

"To be Protestant might mean one is for – or against – legislating against abortion," wrote the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Rigby, professor of theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, on The Dallas Morning News "Religion Blog."

"Protestants run the gamut regarding where they stand on the death penalty, what they think about our current welfare system, and when they think troops should come home from Iraq and Afghanistan," she added.

What Rigby is calling on President Obama to select is a judge who is "knowledgeable, fair, compassionate, patient and creative."

Similarly, Pastor Larry Bethune of University Baptist Church in Austin highlighted how Protestants are a diverse group with both political conservatives and liberals among its ranks.

"Consequently, any particular Protestant may not feel 'represented' by another Protestant," Bethune said. "This is true, of course, of the Catholic and Jewish Justices."

So while the Baptist pastor said religion does matters, it is not the only thing that matters when it comes to the selection of a Supreme Court justice and balance on the court.

Bethune hopes whoever becomes the new justice will be sensitive toward the nation's religious makeup, committed to the founders' vision of religious liberty, the separation of church and state, and equal justice under the law "regardless of his or her personal religious beliefs."

"This commitment is far more important a protection to our common religious freedom than the personal religion of the justice," contended Bethune.

Presently, only one of the three candidates most likely to be nominated by President Obama to succeed Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is Protestant – federal appeals Judge Diane Wood. The other two – solicitor general Elena Kagan and federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland – are both Jewish.

Stevens, who announced this month his plan to retire this summer, is presently the lone Protestant in a court comprised of six Catholics and two Jewish justices.

His retirement announcement opened up the possibility for the Supreme Court to be without a Protestant justice for the first time in its history.

While some have made a big deal of the prospect, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said all the talk on religious representation in the Supreme Court was a distraction.

"The religious background and beliefs really are not relevant to that process," said Sekulow, who frequently represents evangelicals in religious freedom cases, to the Los Angeles Times. "It's how the judge views himself and his role in government."

"The fact that someone shares my theology…I'm more concerned that they share my judicial philosophy," said Sekulow.

Aside from the three leading contenders, president is said to be considering about 7 others, including appeals court judges Ann Williams and Sidney Thomas, former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow.

According to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, President Obama won't announce a Supreme Court nominee this week, pushing the timeline for the announcement of his pick into May.

Last week, the president said would make a nomination in the next couple of weeks.

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