It was more than ten years ago that two court cases made it to the Supreme Court. They dealt with the display of religious messages, like the Ten Commandments, in publicly-owned facilities. An elderly cousin of mine was horrified by those decisions, claiming that they violated the Constitution. He disparaged the SCOTUS justices as know-nothing political appointees. Since then my cousin has passed on, and if his religious beliefs were correct, he was summoned to appear before the SCITS….the Supersupreme Court In The Sky. If he was found guilty, he is currently serving a rather long prison term in a very hot place, with no chance of parole, pardon or clemency. Even good behavior will not help him. Such is the justice of gentle, loving Jesus.
I responded to him with the following letter.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
As you can see, I have enclosed a number of items for your perusal. They are labeled Exhibit A through H, and are intended to give you some food for thought. Some of the Exhibits respond to comments that you made in our phone conversation a few days ago. Ordinarily, I would not attempt to engage in a discussion on these subjects. I have learned from bitter experience that politics and religion are subjects better left alone between family and friends for two reasons: First, they are usually pointless…nobody’s mind will be changed as a result. Secondly, views on these subjects are often passionately held, and the result can be dangerous to friendships and/or family relations. In our case, I have made an (at least temporary) exception. I judge that we have sufficient mutual respect and affection to withstand any tensions that may result from our disagreements, and, because I think we are both reasonably intelligent and mature individuals, we both might learn from the exchange.
A brief description of each of my “exhibits” follows:
Exhibit A is a biographical summary of the nine justices of the US Supreme Court. This is in response to your comment that they were “all political appointees from the business community.” As you can see, all nine justices, both conservative and liberal have impressive educational and legal career credentials. Some have been law professors at the most prestigious colleges in the country. While they may not have spent their entire career studying the Constitution, they all have legal research staffs to delve into the arcane points of any issue, constitutional or otherwise. (Notice in particular that Kennedy, who was the “swing” vote in the recent Kentucky and Texas rulings on church/state separation, was a professor of Constitutional law for 23 years before his Supreme Court tenure.) Contrary to the frequent disparaging statements by members of the Religious Right, these people, even the ones I dislike (e.g., Scalia and Thomas) are making their decisions based on sound legal principles. To say that their church/state decisions “violate the constitution” is unwarranted. I will concede that the Constitution is not completely unambiguous on this subject…but I believe the 14th Amendment offers some clarification. For instance, it says that states cannot take actions that violate federal protections of citizen rights. (In our telephone call, I believe you said the Feds had no jurisdiction in the Kentucky case.) Issues that reach the US Supreme Court are not cut-and-dried. They would have been decided in lower courts if they were, and appeal to the highest court would have been denied. Usually, they reach the highest court because the issue has been reversed and/or appealed, sometimes repeatedly, in lower courts. When such issues are dismissed by pseudo-intellectual critics with oversimplified sound-bites, or disparaging remarks about the Court, justice…and patriotism…are not served. The court has made many decisions that I disapproved of…not the least of which was their intervention in the 2000 election. Still, I respect the members…albeit grudgingly in some cases.
Exhibit B addresses the Kentucky and Texas decisions directly. It suggests, in fact, that the supporters of religious displays on public buildings actually gained some legal ground with the recent decisions. It also contains some interesting history on this issue…which has been debated almost since the country was founded. My running buddy and I were discussing this yesterday. He is not religious at all, and he said that the display of religious icons on public buildings didn’t bother him at all. He just ignored them. I feel somewhat differently, and I pose the following question: If, instead of the Ten Commandments, the government decided to display pages of the Koran on a public building, how would Christians feel? I am certain that many would be outraged and deeply offended. We have devoutly religious people of many faiths in this country, and they are every bit as good citizens as any Christian. How do you think they feel when they see a Christian icon on a public building built with their tax money? Ah, yes, the Christians say…but we are in the majority. True…and that is exactly the reason our founders tried so hard to protect the religious freedom of ALL citizens. Displaying a Christian icon prominently, by itself, on that building indicates a “preference” for Christianity by our government. Why should that be acceptable? Is that not, in fact, a form of coercion? As you will see in other Exhibits, such preference is explicitly banned by the Constitution.
Exhibit C is a diatribe…maybe somewhat overstated…that quotes various members of the Religious Right. To me, these quotes are chillingly threatening. They make it clear that they intend to dominate the life of every citizen with their religious beliefs, and to impose them using the power of the government.
Exhibit D is a collection of quotes by founders of the nation. I have been collecting these for some time, and I use them to refute the fallacious statements by religious zealots that the US is a “Christian nation” founded by devout bible thumpers. The truth is that many of the most prominent founders (Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison and Paine, to name a few) were not Christians. In fact, they were suspicious and distrustful of church officials as you will see when you read this. Another little known fact…the first six presidents of the US were not Christians. Sadly, just as today, many of them had to dissemble and evade questions about their private religious views in order to get elected, most notably Washington who was quizzed repeatedly. He was clever, though, and never divulged his personal religious views. It is clear what he thought, though, when, on his deathbed, knowing he was dying, he refused to have any churchmen present. His last act was to take his own pulse.
Exhibit E is another collection of quotes. These deal with the word ‘establishment’ which is a key word in the First Amendment clause “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” The word had a somewhat different and richer meaning when this was written. As you will see, it meant something closer to support, protection, sponsorship or preference. Thus, displaying Christian icons on public buildings, which is clearly supportive and preferential, was in violation of the intent of this statement. Read this entire piece, and you will get a better feeling for the meaning of the word, and the justification for the actions taken by this Supreme Court and its predecessors…and why their rulings were exactly in line with the intent of the Constitution.
Exhibit F – This is a historical analysis of the church/state separation controversy. Although those specific words do not appear in the Constitution or any of its amendments, this piece shows that the intent of the writers was clear. It gives many examples of other well-known legal principles that were not explicitly stated, but were clearly intended.
Exhibit G – A basic tenet of the Religious Right is that we live in a “Christian Nation.” Nothing could be further from the truth…at least until those fanatics are actually able to subvert the Constitution and convert us into the theocracy they so passionately want. This piece shows how this myth originated, and why it has been carefully nurtured. It also debunks the idea convincingly.
Exhibit H – One of the justifications used to validate the display of the Ten Commandments on public buildings is that they are an important foundation of our legal system. This piece examines each of the Commandments, and comments on its enforceability and consistence with American laws. As you will see, they are not very relevant, mostly unenforceable, and in some cases actually conflict with the law. There are other reasons why their display is inappropriate, of course, not the least of which is that there is no “standard” version. Different religions and denominations list the Commandments in a faith-specific order, and with different language. When government agencies or schools post one version and not others, they are indicating a preference…taking sides in a theological dispute. This is simply not the government’s job.
The whole church/state separation controversy, as I see it, is brought about by one of the basic tenets of Christianity…the need to proselytize. To convert the heathens. Christians KNOW what is best for us, and even if we disagree, they feel duty-bound to inflict their beliefs on us. This is its most threatening aspect to me. I don’t care a whit what religion anyone else practices…as long as they don’t try to inflict it on me. The increasingly aggressive actions of the Religious Right are aimed, by their own acknowledgement, at converting the US into a Christian theocratic state, where biblical law transcends all other law. If you don’t believe that, read the speeches and writings of movement leaders James Dobson, Pat Robertson and congressmen Frist and DeLay, among others. I have spent a lot of time browsing on websites maintained by the Religious Right, and the stuff I read there is truly frightening. The idea of freedom of religion is subverted by them to mean freedom of the Christian religion to dominate the lives of every citizen, whether they are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu…or atheist. To create a theocracy as oppressive as the Taliban was in Afghanistan or the Islamic theocracy in Iran…and soon in Iraq. I will oppose that outcome in every way that I can, but if it happens, I will not remain under its tyranny. I have been seriously considering where I will live if I am forced to renounce my US citizenship. Prime candidates are New Zealand and South Africa.
And finally, I would like you to think about this: Christianity is not the only religion that is aggressively pursuing the goal of world conquest and domination. Islam is doing the same thing. If this “competition” continues, there is only one possible outcome…a global conflict that will make all previous wars look like backyard tea parties. With the inevitable use of nuclear weapons, I think the future of mankind…maybe all life on earth if we continue down this path…is threatened. It is no longer “if” but “when” terrorists will obtain nuclear weapons and detonate them in New York City, or Washington…or even LA.
The only thing that can save us is…tolerance. We, all mankind, must learn to tolerate differences in race, religion, and culture. We must give up our primitive tribal instincts called nationalism. In the past, those tribal instincts have served us well…banding together in tribes for mutual protection. Now, if we are to survive, we must all belong to the same tribe, the tribe of the human race, or we will surely destroy ourselves.
And yet, in this country, I see the opposite trend…away from tolerance. I see the Religious Right intent on imposing their views on all citizens. I see the Far Left at war with the Right, both sides demonizing the other, unable or unwilling to compromise. Government at a standstill as the citizens are told that stem cell research, abortion and gay marriage are the most important issues of the day, when the reality is that the economic and environmental catastrophe that is fast approaching dwarfs those issues into inconsequence. Not to mention the blood and treasure that we are wasting in foreign wars to support our oil “habit.” Not to mention the global terrorism that our aggressive actions in those wars have stirred up. We’re standing on the railroad tracks, looking at the scratch on our leg, and a train is about to run us down. Our priorities are all wrong and getting wronger every day.
I fear for our nation. I fear for the whole human race. I fear for all life on this earth. Much of my fear is caused by the actions of people who are motivated by their religious beliefs, and encouraged by their religious leaders…both here and in the Middle East. Historically, religious beliefs have been the cause of more bloodshed than any other idea that ever entered a human brain. It appears that this bloody tradition will continue indefinitely. The worst, the very worst feature of most religions is their concentration on the Life Hereafter. Life on earth is viewed as a mere prelude to what follows. It is this devaluation of life that gives religions their greatest power…to allay the natural fear of death that we all have. It is also an instrument of control…whatever suffering the poor or enslaved must endure here, it will all be better in the Great Hereafter. Just suffer and endure…and toil to make the rich richer, and the church more powerful…you will ultimately get your reward. Is it any wonder that the Muslims are able to recruit suicide bombers? They promise them all sorts of exotic…and erotic…pleasures after they push that button.
Religions…I have no use for them. As I have grown older and observed more of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, I have become ever more convinced that Marx was right when he said that religion was the “opiate of the masses.” I fear that man’s addiction to these primitive superstitions will be his ultimate undoing.