my pissant two cents

Monday, November 22, 2004

god help us...

it seems like the wall that separates church and state is crumbling. religion is infecting the law, and the courts don't seem to mind very much.

supreme court justice antonin scalia, a right wing zealot, told a jewish congregation in new york that the separation of church and state has no business in our government. according to new york newsday, scalia said that a religion-neutral stance betrays the religious foundation of our nation. he says that the invocation of the judeo-christian god-- who goes by the name "allah" in a third of the world-- in our currency, the pledge of allegiance, chaplains in the military and legislature, in addition to tax exemption for religious organizations demonstrate the religious nature of our society.

this should come as no surprise to supreme court watchers. scalia has never, to my knowledge, expressed an opinion that didn't march lockstep with christian soldiers. scalia, who fancies himself a strict constructionist (i.e., the constitution says what it means and means what it says, and anything else is judicial activism), apparently doesn't notice that the first amendment states "congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." as applied to the states, via the 14th amendment, that means that government has no authority to tell people whether, when, or to what or whom they must worship.

for scalia to suggest and espouse that the judeo-christian ethic is an endemic and immutable characteristic of american culture is not only arrogant in the extreme, it's also wrong. recall that the pilgrims who came to this land did so to escape religious persecution. granted, they were a rather strict christian sect on the outs because of their extremist beliefs, but their experience colored the religious ethos that followed, and was codified in the bill of rights. namely, one should not be forced to comport his or her religious pursuits to some state-imposed orthodoxy.

what we've seen lately, with the crisis over the pledge of allegiance and the ten commandments cases, the mandated funding of religous schools via publicly funded vouchers and the office of faith-based initiatives (which almost exclusively funds christian programs), is the creeping imposition of fundamentalist christianity on the rest of us. when the proponents of godliness speak about the judeo-christian heritage, you can be pretty sure they're placing the emphasis on the latter part of the adjective. scalia's couching of his desire to promote his form of religiosity in "judeo-christian" terms, as opposed to simply christian, is of no practical difference to muslims, hindus, buddhists, atheists and others who don't subscribe to scalia's favored branch of god, inc.

scalia likes to point out that the phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the constitution. that's true. but the obvious division built into the first amendment couldn't be clearer. this exercise in sophistry is nothing new to scalia, who makes parsing words an artform. in this he's like the student who dissects a frog; after pulling it to pieces, you see what a frog is made of, but the frog is dead.

while scalia seeks to thrust god into government from the top down, rev. jerry falwell seeks to do the same from the ground up. falwell's liberty university in virginia has opened a law school with the explicit purpose of indoctrinating "ministers of justice." adam liptak writes in the new york times that the liberty u. law program was intended to stem the tide of left-leaning legal theory.

liptak quotes bruce w. green, liberty's dean: "The prevailing orthodoxy at the elite law schools is an extreme rationalism that draws a strong distinction between faith and reason,"

well, yeah. that's what the law is supposed to do. reason is the measured application of facts to doctrine. faith is the trumping of facts by doctrine. when i go to the law, i want there to be something more than an unquestioning conviction, based on nothing more than the say-so of self-anointed theocrats, to be applied to my case. and what, precisely, is wrong with rationalism?

falwell brags that his goal is to place liberty law grads into judgeships, where "they'll be presiding under the Bible." i know enough about the courts to know that we have enough judges who let their personal beliefs interfere with the neutral application of the law (are your ears burning, justice scalia?). do we really want scalia wannabes injecting their own particular spin on god into the works, from the lowliest traffic court to the highest courts in the land?

and let's not forget that rev. falwell joined rev. pat robertson in blaming the horrible events of 9/11 on abortionists, homosexuals, and the a.c.l.u. this should help disabuse red-staters of the misguided notion that islam has cornered the market on fundamentalist crackpots.

this is not to say that positive things can't be gleaned from the liberty law curriculum. several passages in the liptak article point to positive applications of the law. the students are impressed to act honestly in legal transactions, and to seek to resolve disputes without litigation. these are good things, but they are also taught in the elite law schools that liberty is supposed to remedy.

i'm all for faith. if you want to put your eggs into the cosmic basket of a benevolent, heavenly grandfather who will condemn you to hell for all eternity if you don't say the right magic words, knock yourself out. i, frankly, find that to be a bit silly. but i could be wrong. so why don't we just agree that you don't force your theism on me, and i won't force my atheism on you.

in a nutshell, isn't that what the first amendment means?


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