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Judge Jones and Religion: A Correction

Last December I wrote a series of blog posts critiquing Judge Jones' decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Most of the articles analyzed the text of the Kitzmiller opinion and explained why I thought it was an example of judicial activism. However, in a final post, I also criticized the newsmedia for inaccurately portraying Judge Jones as a political and religious conservative, which I viewed as an effort to shield his judicial opinion from legitimate criticism.

While I emphasized that "I don't care whether Judge Jones is either conservative or religious. My concern is whether he is fair and accurate as a judge," I noted that there was scant evidence that he was a political conservative. I also stated, based on public information available at the time, that there was little evidence that Jones was especially religious or even an official member of a church since he graduated from college. That latter claim turns out to be wrong. According to an article in this month's issue of The Lutheran, Jones has been a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania since 1982, and previously he was a member of a Presbyterian congregation.

So what was the basis for my earlier statement? The most important reason was information Jones submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation proceedings in 2002. When asked to disclose "all memberships... currently and formerly held in professional, business, fraternal, scholarly, civic, charitable, or other organizations since graduation from college," Jones did not list any religious organizations. Because of the all-encompassing wording of this question, and the fact that other judicial nominees considered at the same time listed their religious memberships, I concluded--wrongly--that Jones had not officially joined a church. In reality, he simply chose not to list his membership on the form.

Since Judge Jones turns out to have been a long-time church member, does that mean he must have been fair and impartial in the Kitzmiller case as the media suggested? I don't think so. The underlying point of my original post was that it is the content of the Kitzmiller decision that provides the best evidence for whether Judge Jones was fair-minded, not his personal affiliations. Did he summarize the evidence fairly and accurately? Did he apply the same standards of evaluation to both parties before him? Did he faithfully and without bias consider the arguments offered by both sides? I think the record of the case provides a clear answer to these questions, and the answer is "no." That assessment is based on the objective record of the case, not on Judge Jones' personal affiliations.