We come from different religious backgrounds, but we are united in our belief in the separation of church and state. In fact, because our faith traditions differ, we see an even greater need to ensure that government cannot favor one religion over another or the non-religious. What brings us together now is the threat that Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court poses to this bedrock principle of American law.

This belief in the separation of church and state is not just theoretical. Rabbi Asch’s grandparents came to this country fleeing religious persecution in Eastern Europe. Her family changed their name not at Ellis Island, but years later when no one would rent her great-uncle space for his dental practice because he was Jewish. As a member of small religious community, Priest Peter Wohl is extremely concerned about preserving the right to practice freely. Implicit in that freedom is deep respect for other faith perspectives and commitment to protecting the rights of those who do not hold religious views.

We know firsthand the importance of the separation of church and state. We also understand that the religious freedom protections in our Constitution are meant to be a shield that protects religious practice, not a sword that can be used to harm and discriminate against others.

From his previous judicial decisions and legal advocacy, it is clear that Kavanaugh has worked aggressively to destroy this separation. In a speech just last year he praised former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s views on the wall of separation, saying he was “central in changing the jurisprudence and convincing the court that the wall metaphor was wrong as a matter of law and history.”

His rulings from the bench offer further insight into his disdain for church-state separation. In a dissent, he once wrote that he would permit businesses and non-profit organizations to allow religious liberty claims to override access to critical healthcare services, including birth control. It is likely that in the next few years, the Supreme Court will be asked to decide a number of cases deciding between religious liberty claims and other critical rights, including businesses seeking to fire employees who do not live by certain religious tenets and refusing to serve LGBTQ customers. Our religious faith calls upon us to protect the rights of these groups. We cannot accept the harm that could be done in these cases.

As an attorney, Kavanaugh drafted a brief that implied that government practices “deeply rooted in our history and tradition” should be permitted even if they “favor or promote religion over non-religion.” As people of faith, we believe that the concept of religious freedom requires that all religions — and nonreligion — be treated equally. Religious freedom is for all, not just for some.


Further, Kavanaugh’s writings indicate that he believes that religious institutions should be equally entitled to taxpayer funds. This is particularly concerning when it comes to providing vouchers for public school students to attend religious schools. Kavanaugh himself has a history of supporting private school vouchers. He was the co-chairman of the Federalist Society’s “School Choice Practice Group,” which supported private school vouchers. He also served as an attorney for then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at a reduced fee in his unsuccessful defense of a statewide school voucher program.

The nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court comes at a unique time in this nation’s history. Our country is more diverse than ever before. Here in the Augusta area, we have welcomed and built relationships with a growing new Muslim population that has established local businesses and become an integral part of our community.

At the same time of such diversity, the Trump administration has established a “Religious Liberty Task Force” that seeks to allow religion to be used to justify discrimination. Kavanaugh is someone who would be in lockstep with this administration’s policy.

Religious freedom should never be recognized to include the right to diminish the civil rights of others nor should it start now. We urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to oppose the lifetime appointment of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Erica Asch is rabbi at Temple Beth El in Augusta. Peter Wohl is a Zen Buddhist priest.

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