Justice Stevens, Religious Enthusiast

Koppelman, Andrew | March 1, 2012

It is sometimes alleged that Justice John Paul Stevens is hostile to religion. In fact, however, Justice Stevens espouses a position with religious roots and enthusiastically embraces a distinct conception of religion. This casts doubt on the claim, made in different ways by Eduardo Peñalver and Christopher Eisgruber, that the fundamental concern of Justice Stevens’s religion clause jurisprudence is equality. At least as important to him is protecting religion from corruption by the state.

To be consistent, Justice Stevens ought to acknowledge, more forthrightly than he does, that he treats religion as a distinctive human good. Any notion of corruption implies a norm or ideal state from which the corruption is a falling off. An invocation of the corruption rationale presupposes that religion is a good thing deserving of protection. To call this view hostile to religion is confused to the point of perversity.