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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Meet Richard Garnett, leading expert in seperation between church and state

    Richard Garnett is a leading expert in the separation between church and state. As a professor at The Law School at the University of Notre Dame, Garnett has taught courses such as Freedom of Religion, The Death Penalty and Catholic Social Thought. One of his areas of expertise is in constitutional law and figuring out how the founding fathers set the standards for a modern judicial process.

    Garnett will be guest lecturing today at the James E. Rogers College of Law’s William H. Rehnquist Center at 7 p.m. It is an appropriate venue for him to visit, as he worked as a clerk for Chief Justice Rehnquist in the mid-1990s. The Alaskan native will discuss his thoughts on the new trends religion is undergoing in the government and may perhaps give more understanding to this complex issue. Garnett spoke with the Daily Wildcat on what we can expect from his lecture:

    DW: What intrigues you most about Constitutional Law?

    RG: Constitutional Law sets the framework that makes it possible for us to do everything else we want to do with the law. It’s like the skeleton … or the foundation in which we base everything else on.

    Why do you think our country’s religious freedom protections are incomplete?

    It’s not a harsh criticism. … I often believe law is a work in progress. Some of the standards set by the Supreme Court are not as clear or predictable as they should be.

    Do you notice a change in attitude or policy the Supreme Court has made in regard to religious freedom since you clerked there?

    I do think in some respect that the conversations have changed in the public sphere. There were so many issues that were controversial then but not so much now. I think religious freedom now conflicts with other policies, like racial equality, which, when I was clerking, we didn’t see, because these tensions weren’t coming into conflict with one another.

    What was it like clerking for Chief Justice Rehnquist?

    That was a wonderful experience. I was kind of surprised to get that job. He was such a laid-back, unpretentious person with a very down-to-earth, dry sense of humor. He cared about his clerks’ experience on the Court, because he had been a clerk himself. We would have lunch together and play tennis together. I feel really blessed to have known him.

    How did you get that job?

    The reason he hired me was because of Alaska. Once I got the interview, it was very conversational, and he was very intrigued by the fact I was from Alaska. He hoped to have a law clerk from every state and hadn’t had one from Alaska yet.

    What do you think were Rehnquist’s views on religious freedom?

    He really advocated neutrality. He thought religious believers should not be discriminated against. He tended to think that there was no problem with religious schools getting government vouchers. But he did think it was a mistake for the Supreme Court to get into the business of policing the amount of religion in the public sphere … whether it was Christmas decorations or war memorials with crosses, he didn’t think it was the role of the court to evaluate these types of things.

    Why do you think its is impossible for religion to stay out of politics?

    I mean that as a statement of fact more than an opinion. Many human beings are shaped by their religion, and many people participate in politics. So, it’s not really coherent to say religion cannot be in politics when the real question is, “What do we do with it?”

    Follow Kevin C. Reagan on Twitter @KevinReganUA

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