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The Religious Affiliation of Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is currently a Catholic, but he has belonged to other Christian religious denominations in the past.

"Although born a Baptist and raised a Catholic, he now regularly attends an Episcopal church." [Source URL: http://www.supremecourthistory.org/thomashp.htm].

Clarence Thomas was also raised by a Seventh-day Adventist grandmother and for many years attended the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

23 March 1999 article: Thomas recently left the Episcopal Church to become Catholic. [Source URL: http://www.tesm.edu/writings/millfem.htm]

From: Patricia Zapor, "Catholics, though few in number, have lengthy history on high court", 21 July 2005, posted on Catholic News Service website (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0504224.htm; viewed 26 July 2005):

At the time Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed in 1991, he said that despite having been raised Catholic and having spent several years in a seminary, he was not a practicing Catholic. In 1996 he told fellow alumni at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., that he had recently returned to the church, making him the third Catholic among current justices.

From: Rachel Zoll (Associated Press), "Alito would tip court to Catholics: If nominee's confirmed, members would hold majority for 1st time", published in The Indiana Star, 2 November 2005 (http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051102/NEWS06/511020482/1012; viewed 2 November 2005):

Two of the Catholics on the current court -- Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- are abortion foes. Scalia, whose son Paul is a priest, and Thomas are sometimes seen walking together to the court after attending Mass on holy days of obligation.
From: C. P. Farley, review of Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas written by Ken Foskett, posted 31 July 2004 in "Review-a-Day" section of Powells.com website (http://www.powells.com/review/2004_07_31.html; viewed 3 November 2005):
In Ken Foskett's breezy new biography of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, he describes how Thomas likes to make new law clerks watch the 1949 movie adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. In the picture, Gary Cooper plays an idealistic, intransigent architect named Howard Roark who refuses to compromise his vision in order to satisfy an Establishment addicted to mediocrity.

It's not difficult to imagine why this is Thomas's favorite film. Like Gary Cooper -- excuse me, Howard Roark -- Clarence Thomas believes himself a man of vision besieged on all sides by people of little imagination who just don't get him (Orrin Hatch and Phillis Shlafley aside). Thomas is a genuine heroic individualist in the Objectivist tradition.

From: "Clarence Thomas" article on Wikipedia.org website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Thomas; viewed 3 November 2005):
Raised Roman Catholic (he later attended an Episcopal church with his wife, but returned to the Catholic Church in the late 1990s), Thomas considered entering the priesthood and briefly attended Immaculate Conception Seminary, a Catholic seminary in Missouri, where he encountered some racism. Thomas later attended College of the Holy Cross, where he co-founded the school's Black Student Union and received an A.B., cum laude.

Thomas explored his political identity as he was growing up. He flirted with being a leftist in college, but he was subsequently influenced by the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Later, he gravitated towards conservative viewpoints. He received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Yale Law School in 1974.

From: USA Today, June 18, 1996 (http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/2006/01/our_papist_plot.html; viewed 30 January 2006):
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a onetime seminarian, is back in the Roman Catholic Church after 28 years of estrangement.

In a speech at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts last week, Thomas told fellow alumni he had reclaimed the "precious gift" of his Catholic faith. "It was a joy to receive my first Communion in St. Joseph Chapel this afternoon."

Thomas's conversion brings to three the number of Catholics on the court; the others are Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia. Thomas joined Scalia at the ordination of Scalia's son Paul into the priesthood in Virginia last month.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are Jewish. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is Lutheran, Justices David Souter and Sandra Day O'Connor are Episcopalians and John Paul Stevens is listed as Protestant of unstated denomination.

Thomas, 47, was born into a Baptist family, but converted to Catholicism as a second-grader in rural Georgia. He has said that he rejected the Catholic Church in 1968 on the day when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, because a white fellow seminarian said, "I hope the SOB dies." Until recently Thomas attended a charismatic Episcopal church in Virginia.

From: Ann Rodgers-Melnick, "Justice Thomas sparks debate among Catholic leaders", 24 September 1998, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (http://www.post-gazette.com/regionstate/19980924thomas5.asp; viewed 30 January 2006):
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has returned to the Catholic church after a sojourn as an Episcopalian, will speak tomorrow at St. Vincent Archabbey Basilica in Latrobe after a noon Mass for Catholic attorneys and judges.

Thomas' appearance has upset opponents of the death penalty. They say that Thomas has consistently supported capital punishment, despite Catholic teaching which holds that executions are almost never justifiable.

The Association of Pittsburgh Priests, a small, independent group of Catholic clergy and laity, has written to Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of St. Vincent and Bishop Anthony Bosco of Greensburg, asking them to explain Thomas' appearance. Bosco will be principle celebrant and Nowicki the concelebrant at the Mass.

But Bosco said it's rare to find any public official who completely follows all church social teaching. And Nowicki said the group is caving in to "political correctness."

Neither expected Thomas to speak about the death penalty.

Thomas, 51, a socially conservative black man, has been controversial both for his criticism of affirmative action and the furor surrounding his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings. An attorney who had worked for him accused Thomas of sexual harassment, claiming that he had spoken to her about pornographic movies and made a peculiar remark about pubic hair.

Thomas was born to a Baptist family near Savannah, Ga., but attended Catholic schools, joined the church and began studies for the priesthood. After a year in a Benedictine seminary he left to pursue a legal career. At the time of his appointment to the Supreme Court, he and his wife were members of a theologically conservative Episcopal parish outside of Washington, D.C.

In 1996, he returned to the Catholic Church after 28 years.

Although the Association of Pittsburgh Priests does not plan to picket Thomas' appearance, members felt it was necessary to raise the issue, said the Rev. Gregory Swiderski, a priest at St. Catherine of Sweden in Wildwood.

Pope John Paul II has declared that the death penalty is permissible only if there is no other way to prevent a murderer from killing others. Such circumstances "are very rare, if not practically non-existent," he wrote in his encyclical, the Gospel of Life. The Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania have called the death penalty "unnecessary and inappropriate."

According to George Kendall, staff attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thomas "has voted overwhelmingly to support the death penalty ... even in cases where there was strong evidence of innocence."

Nowicki, who invited Thomas to speak, pointed out that St. Vincent College has had speakers, such as the late Carl Sagan, who rejected faith in God.

"He gave a wonderful lecture on astronomy, but he is a very poor philosopher," Nowicki said.

Thomas was invited not only because of his Benedictine connections, but because the archabbey wanted to feature a prominent black at its annual Red Mass for lawyers and judges. The Red Mass is a centuries-old tradition, named for the red vestments that both judges and priests wore in 13th-century Europe.

"Something that the Association of Pittsburgh Priests needs to understand is that there are not a tremendous number of important African American leaders of the stature of Clarence Thomas in this country. Many of the African American students here on our campus have told me that they are delighted with his presence," Nowicki said.

"The other thing that strikes me is that I have never received a letter from them protesting Carl Sagan or any of the other speakers who have been here. It smacks almost of a certain racism. I trust that it isn't.

"I suspect that it is more of a misguided political correctness. It is not politically correct to like Clarence Thomas."

Red Mass speakers usually talk about the importance of lawyers and judges to society, not about Catholic theology, Nowicki said.

Bosco said he was aware of Thomas' stand on the death penalty when Nowicki proposed him as a speaker, but he did not see it as an impediment.

"It would be difficult for us to find any elected or appointed public official who is 100 percent with us on our legislative and moral stands. We have the same problem with the governor," Bosco said.

See: http://www.berkshire.net/~ifas/fw/9107/thomas.html

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Webpage created 26 July 2005. Last modified 30 January 2006.
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