In 2003, Judge Sonia Sotomayor joined a Second Circuit order that excused government hostility toward religion. In 2000, Rev. Kristopher Okwedy and Keyword Ministries, Inc. – a Christian Church – put up a billboard sign quoting a verse of the Holy Bible, Leviticus 18:22, that says, “Thou shall not lie with a male as with a female – it is an abomination.” The sign included the postscript, “I AM YOUR CREATOR.” After three days and much public outcry, Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari called the display “mean spirited” and said the Bible verse “conveys an atmosphere of intolerance which is not welcome in our Borough.” He then attempted to have the sign removed or covered up.

Okwedy and Keyword Ministries sued in federal court, contending that Molinari’s statements violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, i.e., that the government must remain neutral in matters of religion. The district court dismissed the case and Okwedy appealed. A Second Circuit panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals that included Judge Sotomayor found no Establishment Clause violation because Molinari’s statement did not target a particular religious denomination or disapprove of religion.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has stated unequivocally that government must remain neutral in matters of religion,” said AFA General Counsel Patrick J. Vaughn. “Judge Sotomayor joined a summary order that said it’s okay for government to condemn the Bible,” he added. Don Wildmon, Chairman of American Family Association, observed that Sotomayor’s opinion “places a judicial stamp of approval on the comment of renowned communist Karl Marx that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’ and further would permit a government official to say that the Bible is akin to Aesop’s Fables.” Wildmon added that Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court would have “grave consequences for religious freedom.”

The case is Okwedy v. Molinari, 01-7941 (2d Cir. 2003) (unpublished summary order).

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