What if Judge Sonia Sotomayor Declared Her Atheism? July 22, 2009

What if Judge Sonia Sotomayor Declared Her Atheism?

A candidate judge in South Africa was being grilled by the Judicial Service Commission.

The judge, Senior Counsel Torquil Paterson, made this comment regarding why he left the priesthood to work in law:

“I left the church for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that I realised God does not exist. I am an atheist.”

Paterson, whose lengthy theological studies included a stint at Oxford University, explained that he had eventually come to the conclusion that “all language of God is meaningless”.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe was left perplexed and asked: “So what you read in the Bible about the beginning does not exist? You do not believe that we were created in the image of God?”

“Minister, you may believe that, I don’t,” Paterson replied.

Radebe insisted, to rare laughter at the JSC’s interviews of aspirant judges: “If God does not exist, are you a materialist, a communist, a Marxist?”

Paterson denied he was any of those, adding: “It is a quite difficult to find a real Marxist.”

I didn’t read anything about the Commission kicking him out or deciding to vote against him because of his comments. The remarks aren’t even mentioned in this other article.

Can you imagine if Sonia Sotomayor said that during her confirmation hearings? Even as an “accident” like she supported church/state separation because as a non-religious woman, she felt excluded when government promoted faith?

I’m thinking there would’ve been a public outcry. We’d be hearing about it non-stop. Republicans would have gained enough support to find the votes to block her.

Anyone think otherwise?

Anyone else amazed that the judge’s comment in South Africa almost seems like an afterthought?

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • wall0645

    I love how the Justice Minister automatically associated atheism with Marxism. I wasn’t aware it was a two-way relationship…

    Anyone else amazed that the judge’s comment in South Africa almost seems like an afterthought?

    I wish I didn’t have to be, but yes.

  • If Sotomayor said during her hearings

    “I would hope that a wise Atheist with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.”

    there would probably be hell to pay.

  • Matthew

    Amazed? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

    I hate how backward the US seems to be in subjects like this. Religion, gender, and ethnicity should not matter one bit when it comes to a person’s qualifications. I really hate identity politics.

  • ihedenius

    I don’t know the situation in S Africa. A little surprised maybe. I would’ve thought missionaries to have done a better job … I do know where I live in Scandinavia it wouldn’t even pass the mind of either candidate or interviewers,

  • Mandarb


    I wonder if my fellow Afrikaners are going to put up a fuss. I don’t know the judge’s qualifications, but thus far it sounds good, and I fervently hope that it won’t affect the decision to be appointed.

    It’s probably too much to hope that the americans would take a hint.

    EDIT: And if there was proof that he was disqualified because of this he might be able to challenge it constitutionally.

  • Sotomayor’s Catholicism is a significant factor in Republicans’ political inability to even attempt to block her confirmation. And I’ve no doubt she’s sincere in her Catholicism.

    Hypothetically if she were an atheist, she’d torpedo her nomination by disclosing that fact. If she did it after she was confirmed, she’d be at risk of impeachment. Plain and simple.

    The judge’s experience in SA, though, demonstrates that nonsensical beliefs about atheism are not confined to the USA.

  • Kevin Charleston

    You may be interested to know that the response of Dumisani Ntzebeza, one of the commissioners interrogating the prospective judges responded to Paterson by saying that he (Dumisani) was both an atheist and a marxist.

    A letter to a local online newspaper has generated some quite ‘enlightened’ comments. http://www.news24.com/Content/MyNews24/Letters/1050/e9b2d3e5e89b4dcd9ca6c787e161e28e/22-07-2009%2007-07/Must_judges_believe_in_God

    South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.

    What do you think the response would be if Sonya Sotomayor was asked if she was gay?

    Justice Edwin Cameron was elevated to the SA Supreme Court last year. This is a man who has not only been active in the Treatment Action Campaign (a campaign at odds with the SA govt. over HIV treatment) but is married to his gay partner and is HIV-Positive.

    We are not all backwards at the pointy-end of Africa … But like the curate’s egg it is only good in parts …

  • I’m sure Marxists aren’t that difficult to find.

  • Thilina

    Anyone else amazed that the judge’s comment in South Africa almost seems like an afterthought?

    amazed? not at all. Mentioning ones lack of belief at a government job interview was handled exactly the way it should have been.

    And it seems the Justice Ministers comments were handled equally well…… every government will have fundies but they should be ignored when they say things like this (or ridiculed).
    In a perfect world we would only take notice of the politicians who say things that are true and relevant.

  • Epistaxis

    I would hope that a wise atheist with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a theist who has lived that life.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Declaring atheism or being gay or being a marxist would absolutely destroy any chance Sotomayer has of being confirmed. No doubt whatsoever.

    Which is terribly sad really.

    She is catching enough stick as it is for being a latino woman nominated by a black man. Some of the shit the republicans are flinging (and hoping it sticks) is mindboggling petty and racist.

  • Anyone else amazed that the judge’s comment in South Africa almost seems like an afterthought?

    As a non-US person, I have to say no, I’m not amazed. To me it would seem to help establish South Africa (I spent a few years there as a child) as a progressive and forward thinking nation than many so called advanced societies could take a lesson from.

    I just hope they can sort out some of their other problems.

error: Content is protected !!