An Impossible Scenario?
Imagine that you're abducted and gang-raped--the court agrees and convicts the rapists--but you also get punished for this crime by a six-month prison sentence and 200 lashes! Your punishment is for "meeting with an unrelated male" (who also gets raped by the way). Where in the world did that happen, you may ask. You could assume that no civilized country would do this today. But you'd be wrong. That's the reality in the many Muslim countries where there's no separation of state & religion. This case in point took place in Saudi Arabia this month!*
One of the best things we did early on was the separation of church & state. The Founders knew of the bloody religious civil wars in Europe and elsewhere. They knew about the Inquisition, they knew that the tyranny of the majority could pose threats to individual liberty--after all, liberalism was about freedom, individual freedom. Our Bill of Rights, and the First Amendment in particular, see to this. Freedom of expression and beliefs, now that's a novel concept!
Now, why would intelligent people--especially those who've studied law, the constitution, and maybe some American history--argue for bringing a theocracy to the US? Good question. Maybe we couldn't thoroughly examine their motives, but their actions are based on wishful thinking, ignorance (willful?), and specific political objectives.
This past few days, the Federalist Society had its 25th anniversary with president Bush delivering the keynote address. Members like Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, John "torture-is-OK" Yoo, and several others got their chance to "shine" under the presidencies of Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43. These people are the most conservative judges & lawyers that seek to "restore the law" as intended--not by the Founders and framers of our constitution, by of a ..higher authority. This is another example, among the many in recent history, that the lunatic fringe is not marginal in this country.
Unfortunately today, secular America hangs on a very thin margin in the Supreme Court. It's not too early in the election cycle to point out that there is a huge difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates in jurisprudence and intent on keeping our country secular--and by secular I don't mean non-religious, but a separation of church & state. We knew about this very important difference in the last 2 elections. Bush 43 has had a big impact on SCOTUS by appointing very conservative justices to the hight court; one more and the balance will tip to the other side.
The fact is that the Framers of the constitution (and most of the Founding Fathers) were explicit in maintaining this wall of separation. Here's a brief history:
- Jefferson and Madison, opposed state support of the churches. 1786: Drafted the Virginia statutes for religion freedom. Shielded minority (explicitly including non-believers) from majority's religious views. "To protect every infidel of every denomination."
- 1787: Drafting of the US Constitution. No "god" in it. Article 6, sec. 3: no religious test for any public office. Madison drafted the First Amendment and defended it in the Federalist Papers. Protecting individual conscience was paramount.
- 1789: Congress rejected arguments that the First Amendment only meant to protect one religion over another and not the non-believers.
- 1796: The US signed the Treaty of Tripoli which declared that the US is not a "Christian nation."
- 1802: Jefferson reiterated that the 1st Amend. was indeed a "wall of separation" between church-state.
- 1868: The 14th Amendment abolished slavery but also said that the Bill of Rights must apply to all states! [make of note of this Judge Thomas]
- 1947: The Supreme Court decided that no branch of government could favor one religion over another or over non-believers.
Sure, we have great differences with those conservatives. These differences need to brought into the light. I understand that our politics is to a great extend about personality and not substance, but we can't afford to have another folksy president whose policies can be disastrous. It's too costly and we can't afford it right now!
Why shouldn't we press the point that the conservatives hold crazy views? Justice Scalia has said that the First Amendment does not protect the non-believer! He does not accept the concept of freedom of conscience! His pal on the Supreme Court Thomas has said that the "establishment clause" does not apply to the states! And, that every state can establish its own state church!!
Surely, you can find someone guilty by association too! I'm not talking about casual association, but about building alliances, bridges of support, and forming public policy. Mr. Giuliani has to be held accountable for accepting the support of Pat Robertson. The label reverend can be easily obtained but this should not deflect criticism, nor should it bestow any more legitimacy on anyone.
The reverend Falwell wanted to see an America without public schools, where the churches would take them over. He also said this: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen." Robertson concurred. Take that Rudy. God punished your city. God was behind the attacks on 9/11. Now, if this isn't lunacy, religious bigotry, ignorance, superstition, I don't know what it is.
This bigotry reveals itself in the overt effort to oppress homosexuals [insert any "deviancy" here]. In 2003, SCOTUS [Texas v. Lawrence] decriminalized private sexual conduct--as it should have. No state can punish consenting adults for what they do to each other. But, only a few years later, this view hangs on a 5-4 margin! In his dissent, Scalia [with Thomas concurring] said that people should be able to use the sense of tradition to criminalize all sexual behavior they deem offensive!!!! [and he's not talking only about homosexuality; NYU student questions Scalia]
We have the federal government mandating the teaching of religious dogma instead of science--i.e., birth control is bad, masturbation can lead to pregnancy, etc. President Bush asked the Pope to direct American Catholic priests to be more political in cases like same-sex marriage and abortion (rights). Religious charities have been funded by Bush and they spread misinformation. Contraception, family planning, the "morning after" pill [not an abortion], sex education, etc, have all been contorted to fit a particular religious dogma. And, in ..supermarket fashion, they pick what they like (or being told) while disregarding other passages from their holy book. Protect life from the moment two cells meet until birth, but after that, you're on your own!
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Jesus (allegedly?) said, "there's no justice if people have no shelter," and "there's no justice if people are hungry"? Did he add any qualifiers to this statement? I wonder...
The conservatives talk about limited government but their most popular leaders want to use the government to tell us how to live our own private lives. The next president must support the wall of separation. No Republican presidential candidate is for this! The Supreme Court's future depends on our decision in 2008. The next president should not be a religious preacher. The control of the US Senate is at stake too. Judge Bork had said that the 1st Amendment only applies to political speech (campaigns), and that we should "get over" our objection to school prayer. It was the widespread opposition and a Democratic Senate that prevented this extremist from serving on SCOTUS.
Both parties and all their candidates appeal to religious groups for support. Yet, they differ on what kind of judges we get on the federal courts. This, to me, is a clear choice--among the many that keep liberals and conservatives apart. You have to be partisan today if you want to have a realistic chance of maintaining a secular society where individual freedom of conscience is protected.
We have to be First Amendment patriots!
* From Think Progress: The woman, who had been appealing her original sentence of 90 lashes, was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes after her appeal. The Saudi judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.” The Saudi Justice Ministry confirmed that the stiffer sentence handed out on appeal stemmed from the fact that the victim had gone to the media with her story. “Media may have adverse effects on the other parties involved in the case,” a statement said.
Editor's note 11/21: The victim met with a male friend (he was the "unrelated" male) when they were abducted by 7 men. Both were raped; she was 14 times. For her "crime" she was originally sentenced to 90 lashes! But, she had the audacity to challenge this punishment, appealed, spoke to the media, and that was offensive to the theocratic regime that keeps the country firmly in the 12th century. Horrors.