In a visit to Yale Wednesday, Judge Michael McConnell said he believes religion in American society has historically boosted levels of morality across the nation.
The world-renowned constitutional law scholar — known also as a potential Supreme Court nominee and an outspoken critic of Roe v. Wade — spoke to a large crowd assembled in St. Thomas More Church Wednesday afternoon. McConnell, who serves on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, delivered a speech called “Religion and Republicanism at the Founding,” in which he discussed the ties between church and state throughout U.S. history.
McConnell drew on his knowledge of the First Amendment and his experience as part of a religious minority in Mormon-dominated Utah. Contrary to what some may believe, he said, the Bill of Rights was created to promote religion, not prevent connections between church and State.
“The First Amendment did not create an end to religious establishment,” McConnell said.
McConnell, a law professor at the University of Utah, said that in the eyes of America’s founders, religion was seen as an appropriate means for promoting higher social behavior and was not intended to be separated entirely from the State. He said he believes religion could be the antidote to modern problems of morality, which include higher rates of crime and teen sex.
Though his speech drew mixed reactions from the audience, McConnell received a standing ovation.
Law School professor Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84 said McConnell’s speech was both coherent and well-delivered.
“I think we just heard a really magisterial account,” said Amar, who is a close friend of McConnell. “Very few speakers I’ve heard have had such sweet range and high caliber.”
Angus Dwyer LAW ’06 said although he disagrees with McConnell’s ideology, he would have preferred that McConnell be nominated to the Supreme Court over Harriet Miers.
History professor Lamin Sanneh said he thought the talk was “very clear and very lucid.”
“He was able to sort out and then relate sources of public values,” Sanneh said.
Other audience members said they were skeptical of McConnell’s suggestion that government should promote religion in the United States.
“I mostly came for what you hear in the news about rabid Republicans trying to put him in the Supreme Court,” Karl Waern ’04 GRD ’11 said. “I thought this lecture was elegant, but I am concerned that someone of his stature would support indoctrination of virtue by any means.”
Despite reports that say McConnell is toward the top of President George W. Bush ’68’s short-list for Supreme Court picks, McConnell said he thinks an actual nomination is unlikely.
“It’s like lightening striking,” he said.
Former Yale Law School Dean Guido Calabresi ’53 LAW ’58, who is now a judge on the 2nd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, said he is pleased that the Yale community had the opportunity to hear from one of the country’s top legal minds.
“He is a person who has fought as deeply about the relationship between religion and the Constitution as Ruth Bader Ginsberg fought on the relationship of the Constitution and women’s rights or Thurgood Marshall on the Constitution and race,” Calabresi said. “In his field, he’s considered the original thinker. People can disagree with his views, but that is another matter. This is exactly the kind of thing a chapel like this in a university like this ought to have.”
McConnell is the recipient of the 2005 Judge Guido Calabresi Fellowship in Religion and Law.