Guest / Limited Access /

As churches and religious groups eye President Obama's Supreme Court pick, U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, they will likely take keen interest in her religious freedom cases. During her career, Sotomayor has written several decisions that involve religious freedom and church and state conflicts; these appear to support the position of many churches, or, at the very least, raise few red flags.

Sotomayor's position on the First Amendment is perhaps clearest in her lone dissent in Hankins v. Lyght (2006). In this case, John Paul Hankins, a United Methodist minister, was forced to retire because he was 70 years old. He sued, arguing that this was a violation of federal law barring age discrimination in employment. The court ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) gave religious groups an exemption from such laws. In her dissent, Sotomayor made arguments that provide a window into her interpretation of the First Amendment.

Sotomayor did not equate RFRA with the protections found in the First Amendment. She argued that RFRA does not, as its title suggest, "restore" the religious freedoms found in the First Amendment. Rather, RFRA provides new, additional religious freedom protections for individuals from government. In this age discrimination case, the dispute was between two private parties and the government was not involved. As a result, Sotomayor argued that only the protections found in the First Amendment apply.

This raises the question, What protections does the First Amendment provide? Sotomayor used the "Lemon Test" (named for 1971 Supreme Court Lemon v. Kurtzman decision) to answer this question: Does the law have a secular purpose? Does the law either inhibit or promote religion? Does it foster entanglement ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
Recommended
Subscriber Access Only Heaven Is Not Our Home
The bodily resurrection is the good news of the gospel—and thus our social and political mandate.
TrendingFive Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
If you want to help people see Holy Week with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.
Editor's PickGod's Hot Pursuit of an Armed Bank Robber
God's Hot Pursuit of an Armed Bank Robber
After I surrendered to the FBI, I surrendered to the Holy Spirit.
Leave a Comment

Use your Christianity Today login to leave a comment on this article. Not part of the community? Subscribe now, or register for a free account.

hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

May 2009

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.