Archive for the ‘Establishment Clause’ category

ACLU: “American Taliban” or True Patriots?

July 5, 2007

Of course, the real American Taliban is all over this:

Unless a federal judge orders it down, an icon of Jesus holding biblical quotations about justice will stay up in the [Slidell, La] city court lobby, a judge said Saturday.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will take the court to court unless the icon and a plaque below it reading “To Know Peace, Obey These Laws” are removed by Monday.

And the Mayor of Slidell’s incredibly ridiculous reaction sounds like it came straight from the mouth of Roy Moore or one of his sycophants:

Mayor Ben Morris said he was ready to fight. “I fight daily with FEMA for the recovery of our city, and now we must fight with these tyrants, this American Taliban who seek to destroy our culture and our heritage,” he said.

Let me get this straight, Mayor. You want to give official government endorsement to a particular type of Christianity, while the ACLU wants to force the government to be neutral in all matters religious, yet it’s the ACLU who is the Taliban? If that’s how it is, let’s just stop talking right now, because words have no meaning.

As for the “our culture and our heritage” thing, the picture is a reproduction of a 16th Century Russian Orthodox painting in which Jesus is holding a Russian Bible, hence this reply from a fellow Louisiana blogger:

“Our culture and our heritage”? What heritage?!! Our Russian Orthodox heritage!? No one knew what the hell the words on the portrait even meant, and now everyone is going apenuts! People were being instructed, in the courthouse, to “obey” laws written in a language they didn’t understand, yet when someone complains and wants the picture removed, the judges and mayors raise hell about how “our” sacred “culture” is being destroyed.

As another La Blogger says, it’s a good thing for the mayor that

the ACLU respects your right to spout off like an idiot…

Seriously, though, I understand people who wonder why anyone would get irritated at a silly painting, especially if no-one can even read it. It does seem like de minimis harm.

I happen to think otherwise. I would not want to go to court and have to look at a picture of Muhammad telling me to obey his rules. Hence, I’m not going to make anyone look at pictures of my God. The golden rule, and all that.

But still, even if I thought this was a de minimis injury, I’d be happy that the ACLU was suing the city (and others who do similar stuff). Why? Mostly because the ACLU’s fights in these little cases are what prevents big problems. In other words, because government officials know that doing something as innocuous as putting up a ten commandments monument in a park can lead to a lawsuit, those same officials are very unlikely to do something really crazy like mandating church attendance. Or to put the same thing another way, if no one opposed Roy Moore and his types in these government religious display cases, what do suppose their next idea would be?

We enjoy religious freedom not because our government officials are wise and good. We enjoy it because people like those with the ACLU have the courage to fight for it.

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How Do You Spell Hypocrite?

April 19, 2007

The Thomas More Law Center.

In you are unfamiliar with these folks, they’ve got a lot in common with Roy Moore, being fervent defenders of the state’s power to display the ten commandments:

The Thomas More Law Center announced Monday, December 13th [2004] that it has filed a friend of the court brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of Ten Commandments displays on public property.

So if state or local governments want to endorse Christianity, that’s all well and good. But what if some other religion wants to put its symbol on public property? All that stuff about acknowledging god and religious freedom goes out the window:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that followers of the Summum faith can display their Seven Aphorisms in Duchesne and Pleasant Grove city parks that already hold monuments of the Ten Commandments. 

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the parks are public forums, and restrictions on speech based solely on its content are forbidden except in narrow circumstances. 

The two decisions overturned rulings by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson that blocked Summum’s proposed monuments. In the Pleasant Grove case, the court said requiring the city to permit display of Summum’s tenets will further free speech. 

Salt Lake City attorney Brian Barnard, who represented Summum in both cases, applauded the rulings. “It’s a good day for the First Amendment,” he said. 

Pleasant Grove City Attorney Tina Peterson and Duchesne Mayor Clint Park declined comment Tuesday. They referred questions to Edward White III, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan, which is helping defend the municipalities against the Summum lawsuits.

The blatant double standard gets worse. Guess who succesfully argued in a previous case that these same two cities – Pleasant Grove and Duchesne – had the power to put up the Ten Comandmanets momument? I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count, because this ought to be obvious:

In a ruling released yesterday, Federal District Judge Dee Benson held that Duchesne City, Utah, acted constitutionally when it sold land on which a Ten Commandments monument sits to keep from having to remove it. This is the second case within the past five months in which two public interest law firms, the Thomas More Law Center and the American Center for Law and Justice, have collaborated as co-counsel to prevent the removal of Ten Commandment Monuments in Utah.

The Duchesne decision comes within five months after another federal judge ruled in favor of Pleasant Grove City, Utah, allowing a separate Ten Commandments monument to remain on public property. The two public interest law firms acted as co-counsel in that case as well.

That blows my mind. It would be one thing to argue that there could be no religious displays in public property; or that the city must allow all religions equal access. Either of those options would be, I think, constitutional and a good idea. But to argue that a city gets to pick and choose which religions are allowed and which are not? How do these guys sleep at night?

Then again, despite the title to this post, they probably are not hypocrites. The TMLC is pretty open about their belief that the government can only endorse Christian beliefs:

The Thomas More Law Center affirms the right of Christians to publicly practice their religion and freely express their religious beliefs.

And that is exactly what they did in these two Utah towns: Fight for the right of Christians to publicly practice their religion, everyone else be damned.

BTW, here’s a link to the 10th Circuit’s decisions.

The End Of The Latest Monkey Trial

December 20, 2006

The Cobb County sticker case is over:

The Cobb County evolution saga is finally over, more than four years after school officials ordered stickers warning that evolution is “a theory, not a fact” pasted into thousands of science textbooks.

The end came Tuesday, when the Cobb County school board announced it had settled a lawsuit filed by parents who said the disclaimer violated the constitutional prohibition against government-established religion. . . .

In the settlement, the school system agreed not to take out or edit materials on evolution in textbooks and to pay $166,659 toward attorney fees in the case.

This is certainly a “W” for the plaintiffs. I’ve previously commented on this case, after the 11th Circuit remanded it back to the District Court for further hearings. I did not think the sticker itself was all that harmful, though I recognized the motives behind it were probably one hundred percent bad. Today’s story confirms my belief about the motives:

Marjorie Rogers, the Cobb parent who led the drive that resulted in the stickers’ placement, said she was disappointed.

“The stickers were just a compromise the school board made to satisfy those of us who were offended by the material in the textbooks,” said Rogers, a creationist.

Once again, the nefarius right not to be offended trumps education. Even better is this reaction:

Larry Taylor, one of the parents who originally lobbied the school board for the stickers, expressed frustration at the decision to settle. He blamed the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the parents who sued the school district.

“They were trying to do the right thing,” said Taylor, a parent of three Cobb students. “It’s terrorist organizations like the ACLU that are hijacking our country’s educational system by imposing their own secular agenda on the rest of us.”

Speaks for itself, huh? Yes, an organization that uses courts to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, that’s just like an organization that flies planes full of people into crowded office towers in order to impose its barbaric religious views on another country. And who is “hijacking our country’s educational system?” The organization that tries to make sure school science classes teach science? Or the religious nut jobs who want science withheld from all students whenever that science conflicts with their own bad theology? What an idiot.  Someone was trying to do the right thing here, but it wasn’t Larry Taylor or the Cobb County School Board.

Troy King: I Will Ignore The Law

October 20, 2006

The B’ham News has this story about A.G. Troy King. Mostly it’s a tale of how two specific events during King’s childhood led him to adopt inflexible rules that he now applies to everything he does. He’ll always be true to the ideas he developed when he was eleven.

It also has this little tidbit:

After completing law school, King went to work for then-Gov. Fob James, where he held several jobs.

During that time, James spoke out strongly against restrictions on school prayer and in support of then-Circuit Judge Roy Moore’s courtroom display of the Ten Commandments.

“The thing I learned from Governor James is how important it always is to be protective of your integrity and your principals,” King said.

He said he agreed with James that federal court rulings have unfairly restricted religious practices in public settings.

“I think federal judges have undermined the foundation of religious freedom and religious liberty in a lot of respects,” King said. “To me, Governor James understands as well as anybody else what the Bill of Rights protects and what the Constitution guarantees.”

King said, for example, that he does not believe teacher-led prayer in public schools is unconstitutional, as federal courts have ruled. He said he has no plans to initiate lawsuits about school prayer or other church-state issues.

First of all, we all ought to be really worried that King is taking Con Law lessons from the monkey man. I once took a class taught by a local lawyer who had to defend the state in an establishment clause case during James’s time as governor.This guy is as conservative as the day is long, he’s a real old school white shoes lawyer. And he told us that he flat out refused to make the arguments James wanted him to make: Moore-ish and Troy-ish arguments about the establishment clause not applying to Alabama. So Fob James is not someone a responsible lawyer would ever look to for advice about the First Amendment.

Second, why in the world is it so hard for Troy King to understand the difference between the expression of religion by state actors and private actors? The latter -ALONE – have freedom of religion. The former is the specific subject of the establishment clause. The constitution explicitly denies that the state has anything even remotely like “freedom of religion.” Roy Moore is perfectly free to put his ten commandments monument in his front yard; he is prohibited from putting it in his courtroom. That’s because he is a private individual in the first instance and a state actor in the second. When someone puts on that state hat, they are no longer acting as individuals. They are the state and are therefore limited in their actions by the constitution.

Third, instead of wasting time filing stupid briefs in other states, why not do something constructive here in Alabama? A little knowledge among our local officials would go a long way to preventing future lawsuits. No doubt first amendment law is confusing, and the majority of problems could be avoided if the local officials knew ahead of time what they could and could not do. So perhaps King ought to spend his resources educating local officials about what they can and cannot do under the establishment clause. King might not like the current state of the first amendment, but a good attorney can put aside his distaste for a law and advise his clients on how to obey it.

King, however, seems more intent on jousting with windmills than on actually doing his job.

Is Religious Freedom A Central Principle Of Christianity?

September 8, 2006

Yesterday, I commented on part of this Roy Moore quote:

as late as 1931, the Supreme Court in United States v. Macintosh declared, “We are a Christian people … according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God.” Thus, the Supreme Court itself recognized that God is the source of religious freedom, not man – a central principle of the Christian faith.

I focused on his claims about the Scotus quote. Then I started thinking about the claim about God. I do not know what God thinks about religious freedom, but I’m not so sure you can describe religious freedom as “a central principle of the Christian faith.” Or at least I do not think the historical record demands that contention.

Consider John Calvin’s view on the purposes of civil government:

But we shall have a fitter opportunity of speaking of the use of civil government. All we wish to be understood at present is, that it is perfect barbarism to think of exterminating it, its use among men being not less than that of bread and water, light and air, while its dignity is much more excellent. Its object is not merely, like those things, to enable men to breathe, eat, drink, and be warmed, (though it certainly includes all these, while it enables them to live together;) this, I say, is not its only object, but it is that no idolatry, no blasphemy against the name of God, no calumnies against his truth, nor other offences to religion, break out and be disseminated among the people; that the public quiet be not disturbed, that every man’s property be kept secure, that men may carry on innocent commerce with each other, that honesty and modesty be cultivated; in short, that a public form of religion may exist among Christians, and humanity among men.

Let no one be surprised that I now attribute the task of constituting religion aright to human polity, though I seem above to have placed it beyond the will of man, since I no more than formerly allow men at pleasure to enact laws concerning religion and the worship of God, when I approve of civil order which is directed to this end, viz., to prevent the true religion, which is contained in the law of God, from being with impunity openly violated and polluted by public blasphemy.

In other words, civil government cannot mandate that a person attend church, but it can burn at the stake a person who denies the trinity. That would be a pretty tortured definition of liberty, if it were so to be called.

I think most would agree that Calvin’s attitude was typical of churchmen – Catholic and Protestant (but not Anabaptists) – during the reformation. These attitudes, I think, more than justify an observer in concluding that Christianity had no place for religious liberty.

And what of Colonial America? How about John Winthrop’s famous sermon:

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations, the Lord make it like that of New England. For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and byword throughout the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake, we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going. And to shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord in His last farewell to Israel, V 30., Beloved there is now set before us life and good, death and evil, in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His ordinance, and His laws, and the articles of our covenant with Him that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God my bless us in the land whither we go to possess it.

Did that lead to religious liberty in colonial Massachusetts? Ask Roger Williams. Or consider what happened to women accused of having strange religious ideas. The result was more like a theocracy.

Different views existed. William Penn, for instance. But those folks were considered freaks. By and large the views were similar to Calvin. Again, the objective observer would probably not conclude that religious liberty is a central tenant of Christianity.

Obviously, I am no historian. The lessons I have been taught, however, lead me to question Moore’s assertions. God may indeed think highly of religious liberty. But I think the actions and words of his followers might cause an objective observer to wonder.

Bass Ackwards

June 28, 2006

That is the best description of how the supporters of H.R. 2679 understand the First Amendment. Sponsored by, among others, our own Spencer Bachus, the purpose of the bill is [emphasis added]:

To amend the Revised Statutes of the United States to eliminate the chilling effect on the constitutionally protected expression of religion by State and local officials that results from the threat that potential litigants may seek damages and attorney’s fees. 

Federal law gives us the right to sue state officials who violate the constitution. Because the harm is serious – thumbing their noses at our essential law – but the damages are usually not monetary, congress long ago decided to provide for attorney’s fees in these types of case.

The proposed law would exempt cases where someone sues the state for violating the establishment clause. What that means is the plaintiff would have to foot the bill on their own, even if they win. It also means there would be no real penalty for the offending state officials. The result? Establishment clause immunity. (Read more criticism here, and here. Favorable views are here).

What I really want to point out, however, is the highlighted language. Read it again. Do you understand what these folks are proposing? That THE STATE has a right to the free expression of religion. 

Um, no. The Constitution gives the people the right to free expression. It limits government involvment in religion. You have the right to the free expression of religion, I have the right to the free expression of religion, state and local officials have the right to free expression of religion as individuals. But if the state itself has that right, then guess what? You and I do not. Is that what we want? To authorize the state of Alabama to declare an official religion? That’s what this language would allow.

Governments don’t have rights, they have power. On government’s power over religious beliefs, here is Thomas Jefferson:

our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

The language about the bill’s purpose, of course, is not part of the law. But it says a lot about the people who support the bill.