Judges and Their Religions

In this series, we provide different perspectives on religion and judging. Five contributors, academics and a U.S. federal judge explore religious diversity and the judiciary, interplays between religious convictions and judicial ethics, and the role of religion and religious beliefs in professional and personal biographies of judges.

The series starts with Jeremy Patrick’s elaboration on interplays between religious diversity and the composition of the High Court of Australia. David G. Campbell discusses public concerns about possible tensions between religious adherence and the judiciary oath and argues that religious devotion can be consistent with good judging. Based on the examples of Israel and Egypt, Andrea Pin demonstrates how judges’ religious law-illiteracy can give a secular push to legal systems with the religious component.

Based on the example of the South African Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Christine Venter addresses the obligation of judges to separate their personal religious convictions and the legal reasoning they provide in their decisions. David Kenny explores the biography of Brian Walsh, a prominent Irish justice and a judge of the Strasbourg Court, and the role his Catholic background plays in his jurisprudence.


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Fair Reflection of Religious Affiliation and the High Court of Australia

Jeremy Patrick is a Lecturer for the University of Southern Queensland School of Law and Justice

In recent decades, the High Court of Australia has come under a steady stream of criticism for failing to reflect the multicultural diversity within Australian society [1]. Although some progress has been made in the area of gender equality and sexual orientation [2], the High Court remains notoriously homogenous in other respects like race, education, and professional background. The situation that Eddy Neumann described in 1973 has changed, but not as much one might hope:

[The] typical High Court Justice is a male white Protestant raised in Sydney or Melbourne (or much less frequently, Brisbane) and of British ethnic origins. He is from upper middle rather than upper class background, though perhaps more than his American counterparts from lower middle class environment. He usually goes to a high status high school (usually private) and then to Sydney or Melbourne university where he has a brilliant academic record. If from a moneyed family he immediately goes to the Bar [3].


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Is Religious Devotion Consistent with Good Judging?

David G. Campbell is a Senior United States District Judge for the District of Arizona

During the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Senator Diane Feinstein expressed a “very uncomfortable feeling” about the nominee’s religious devotion, observing that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Senator Feinstein in effect asked whether a religiously devout person can serve as a truly fair and neutral judge. She seemed to fear that a judge’s devotion to religious doctrine will invariably override all other considerations—that religious dogma will prevail over the rule of law.

Many decried the Senator’s statement as religious discrimination, noting, among other things, that Article VI of the Constitution expressly forbids any religious test for public office. But the Senator’s question should not simply be dismissed as anti-religious animus. For those who believe in adherence to the rule of law, her question is relevant.  Few would argue that judges should be free to impose their religious views through their judicial decisions. To the extent this is the focus of Senator Feinstein’s concern, it deserves thoughtful responses.


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