Thursday, October 30, 2003

I'm still trying to figure out this recent column from Michael Mayo in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who has been at the center of controversy over his installation (and the subsequent removal) of a Ten Commandments monument in his state's judicial building, visited town to speak at a Christian conference over the weekend.
With his costly, divisive and utterly unnecessary crusade to install and keep a two-ton Ten Commandments display in the Alabama Judicial Building, he acts more like a preacher trying to enlighten souls than a jurist concerned with doing his job.
Oh, I see. As long as we're going to be objective about it.
If a preacher is what he wants to be, more power to him.

But as an elected judge representing people of all denominations (and no denomination), the concept of keeping religion at an appropriate distance from the secular affairs of state shouldn't be that difficult to muster.

It's Civics 101, right?
Well actually, no, Michael, it isn't. This is the problem with making sneering remarks about "Civics 101" when one has never actually taken Civics 101. If you had taken it (or at least a well-taught, historically accurate version of it) you'd know that not only was keeping religious speech out of the halls of government the furthest thing from the minds of the Founding Fathers, but that nearly all the signers of the Constitution were professing Christians, and that a substantial number of them had ministerial training. You'd know that during the Constitutional Convention, when the delegates were struggling to agree on anything, Benjamin Franklin (supposedly the "least religious" of the Founding Fathers) said:
In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor....And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?

...I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business."
That was at the Constitutional Convention, Michael. So what was that you were saying about Civics 101?
"The institutions of our society are founded upon the belief that there's an authority higher than the state," Moore told me Monday. "The Declaration of Independence talks about certain inalienable rights granted by our Creator. If government forbids the acknowledgment of God, then there are no inalienable rights."

Couldn't people figure out universal human rights on their own, without God?

"That's what Hitler said," Moore said.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to so baldly reveal one's ignorance. Wouldn't you be embarrassed to ask "huh?" instead of, oh, I don't know, maybe looking it up, or doing some research? Here's a quote I found from Hitler after less than five minutes of research:
Historically speaking, Christianity is nothing but a Jewish sect...After the destruction of Judiasm, the extinction of Christian slave morals must follow....we are fighting against the perversion of our soundest instincts. ..that poison with which both the Jews and Christians have spoiled and soiled the free, wonderful instincts of man and lowered them to the level of doglike fright.
You see, Michael, Hitler believed that Christianity ran counter to our instincts, and that it was our instincts that should be followed. And, of course, he followed his.
As you'd expect from a judge, he has some reasoned arguments, pointing out inconsistencies in the government's approach to God and religion. He rattles off precedents, quotes from Supreme Court rulings to bolster his position.

He wonders why he can't keep his Ten Commandments display while the federal courthouse in Montgomery has Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, sculpted on the front. He wonders why he can swear to uphold a state constitution that invokes an "almighty God" and spend money imprinted with "In God We Trust," but he can't point out "Thou Shalt Not Kill" in a court's rotunda.

But it still feels like he's trying to go somewhere that makes me uncomfortable.
Now we get to the crux of the problem. It makes Mayo feel "uncomfortable." Michael Mayo's comfortability is, of course, our supreme Constitutional principle. But what about those arguments? What about those inconsistencies Judge Moore pointed out? Apparently, none of them matter unless we feel comfortable.
This seems less about government separating people from God than fundamentalists of one religious stripe trying to tear down walls and see how far they can go. After all, it's not as if the government is telling the 90 percent of Americans who believe in God that they can't go to their local houses of worship.
No, they're simply telling the 90 percent of Americans who believe in God that they can't mention him or acknowledge him anywhere outside the house of worship, and certainly not in government. The 90% will be held hostage by the 10%. As Bill Federer has put it, the last ones into the boat (and there was hardly any such thing as institutional atheism 50 years ago) now want to push the first ones out. One gets the feeling that if Ben Franklin had prayed his prayer in front of Mayo, Mayo would have written a similar column about him.
Moore has every right to believe what he believes. But I wonder if he's in the wrong line of work.
And I wonder if you are, Michael.

No comments: