Every once in a while, the United States of America much more resembles a psychiatric ward than a Nation-State cum Superpower. No one should come to our shores seeking political asylum, for the USofA often as not is a political asylum and no two things better illustrate this than the recent controversies surrounding, on the one hand (the right hand!), the court-ordered removal of a so-called "monument" to the Ten Commandments placed in the Alabama State Judicial Center by that State's overzealous Chief Justice and, on the other hand (the left one this time!!), the rhetoric surrounding Democrats' opposition to the Gubernatorial Recall Election in California scheduled for this coming October.
First, as to all the Rightist faldoral in Alabama, where Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended because he had refused to obey a Federal Court order to remove a display dedicated to the Ten Commandments of Judeo-Christian Tradition, an order that has now been carried out despite Justice Moore and a vocal contingent of protesters seeking to prevent such removal. I myself never much understood the alleged efficacy of placing the Decalogue inside a courthouse in the first place: as if someone charged with Capital Murder sitting at the Defendant's table during his or her criminal trial would silently read "Thou shalt not kill", slap one hand to the head in "I could've had a V-8!" fashion and then suddenly exclaim for all in the courtroom to hear, "Oh! I get it now!! I shouldn't have gone ahead and killed anybody!!!" But here the intent of so placing this same Decalogue in the courthouse is so clearly to promote its words as a basis for a religious code of conduct, as opposed to illustrating its place as part of the foundation of Law in and of itself, and- as a result- a bright line has been crossed that should not have been.
But the enforcement of that bright line has galvanized not only the protesters in Montgomery but also Chief Justice Moore's supporters around the country. For instance, Sandy Rios, the head of a group called Concerned Women for America, is quoted as saying that the embattled Alabama Chief Justice is "a man who knows what he believes and that is uncommon in our day and time: it's refreshing". Well, uncommon and/or refreshing or no, I myself happen to be someone who also knows what I believe not any the less than Chief Justice Moore himself and I believe that all of this is just plain silly, largely the product of abject ignorance... not to mention most injurious to the Constitution of the United States, both the governmental structure it created as well as the civil liberties it protects.
Putting aside the chilling effect of Chief Justice Moore's channeling a grainy four decades-old image of George Wallace's infamous "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door": in this case a State's highest-ranking jurist openly defying the order of a superior court (not to mention the decisions of his own colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court!), truly a slap in the face to the concept of a government of laws and not of men (for I cannot help but hear in my memory the words of a long-gone Federal judge from Alabama who, commenting on Wallace's attempt to prevent African-Americans from enrolling in the University of Alabama back in 1963, opined that his State's officialdom seemed to have "just plumb forgot" about Article VI, Clause 2 of the Federal Constitution- the Supremacy Clause which, by the way, not only states unequivocally that the Constitution and Laws of the United States are "the Supreme Law of the Land" but also just as unequivocally states that "the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby"), there is also that which is implied by the rather strident tone of Chief Justice Moore's supporters, both within and outside Alabama.
James Dobson of 'Focus on the Family', for example, is quoted as saying that "[i]t's really about Judicial Tyranny", conveniently forgetting the religious Tyranny fomented by those who, for whatever reason, have come to feel that the best way to make people accept Religious Truth (which is ever defined as their "religious truth", of course) is to forcibly shove it down people's throats. Never mind the fact that my Mom feeding me liver, which I positively hate, every Wednesday come suppertime during my childhood did not at all get me to come to accept the ingestion of liver (for, to this very day, I have not, in fact, ever had liver as part of a meal in the now nearly a quarter century since I first left the parental nest), suggesting (though admittedly anecdotally) that a force-fed diet does rather little to at all enamor the person who has been so forced to the product thus being fed to him or her, it also has to be acknowledged that this is pretty much the same kind of theocratic thinking that- in a different cultural context, to be sure- well motivates the actions of such groups as al-Qa'eda!
Among the reference materials available to me here in the plush, luxurious (yeah... right!) and altogether comfy offices of the East Coast branch of 'The Green Papers' is a rather fascinating multi-volume set entitled The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America, compiled by Verna M. Hall and first published in 1960. It is primarily a collection of writings of various pre-American Revolution legal scholars (for example, Hugo Grotius- the Father of International Law), leaders of the Patriot cause, and excerpts from various, for the most part no longer so easily attainable, sources such as early-to-mid 19th Century textbooks on the development of American Government. The compiler states her views (seemingly based on a two-fold concept that a.) the influence of Christianity on the American politicolegal system had been hidden from the public via the teaching of History in the Nation's public schools in favor of the promotion of what Ms. Hall calls "socialism" [which, while nowhere clearly defined by her, seems to include at least a few items that even current U.S. House Republican Leader Tom DeLay would nowadays support- things such as Social Security] and b.) that the United States of America was always intended to be a Christian Nation) in the Preface to the work but, other than that, this is principally a collection of materials which- while showing that Christianity (that which is called "Judeo-Christian tradition" nowadays) did, in fact, strongly influence the Founders of the USofA (a premise I myself will concede later in this very piece)- in the main does absolutely nothing to at all prove her second premise, for the mere fact that many within the thread of those who aided the evolution of the Anglo-American legal system throughout the Colonial era and on into the early Federal period of American History often cited God (as they understood Him) or, perhaps, "Providence" as at least one of the sources of their politicolegal thinking does not at all indicate that the United States of America of the early 21st Century need be as Christian (nor even as religious, regardless of Faith or Sect) in the public sphere of our society anymore than Benjamin Franklin's having once worn knee breeches provides a dress code for me to have to follow should I choose to drive down to Philadelphia and visit Independence Hall later on today!
The Constitution of the United States never once mentions God, not even in its Preamble (though a number of State Constitutions, in their respective Preambles, cite gratitude to "Almighty God" or "the Supreme Being" for "blessings" such as "Liberty"). I myself have opined, in earlier Commentaries on this website, that the words of the Declaration of Independence- as well as the Preamble- well color the text of the Constitution itself (though it has to also be acknowledged that neither of these have the force of Law that the actual text of the document has) and it is certainly a self-evident Truth that the Declaration cites "certain unalienable Rights" with which all "are endowed by their Creator". But even an atheist here in the United States, as one of those "all" of which the Declaration itself speaks, has these same unalienable Rights "among [which] are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" and, beyond this, the mere fact that the members of the Continental Congress which adopted the Declaration pretty much believed in God (and, for that matter- and with very few exceptions, a Protestant God!) does not at all have anything to do with what one- even in claiming these same unalienable Rights- should be required to believe today!
Those in the First Congress who sent the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution which came to be known as "the Bill of Rights" to the States for ratification in 1789 were intelligent enough to realize that Free Society could not well survive the baser instincts engendered by Sectarianism. Yes, it is true that most of these same men were primarily thinking of the rights of Christians to worship as they so chose when they approved the notion that "Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof..." and it is equally true that the members of the First Congress did not much disapprove of a State establishing a religion- for these politicians were obviously products of their time and place; however, the later 14th Amendment's prohibiting a State from "depriv[ing] any person of... liberty... without due process of law" put the ol' "KI-bosh" on the latter concept (once "freedom of religion" was judicially recognized as just such a "liberty" covered by that Amendment) and, as for the former concept, despite the opinions of 19th Century legal commentators from Justice Joseph Story to Thomas Cooley that the non-Establishment doctrine was never intended to thwart the encouragement of Christianity (so long as such encouragement did not interfere with individual rights of conscience) by government, the 20th Century would produce a quite different tack- one toward the position, to quote U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (a native of Alabama, by the way- and "Jim Crow"-era Alabama at that!), that- where "the State's tax-supported... buildings" are "used for the dissemination of religious doctrines"- "[t]his is not separation of Church and State" [People of the State of Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of Champaign (1948), 333 U.S. 203 at 212].
For that is precisely what Chief Justice Moore was doing with his Ten Commandments "monument", using his State's tax-supported building to disseminate religious doctrines. There would have been nothing inherently wrong with the Ten Commandments being presented, even within a display inside a courthouse, as part and parcel of the history of the development of what we now know as Anglo-American Law, for it cannot be denied that both the Holy Bible (in the Protestant "King James" Version, of course) and English Common Law were, together, the basic building blocks of our legal system first utilized by the earliest colonists- whether New England Puritan or Virginia Cavalier; Moses, therefore, certainly deserves his place within the pantheon of "Law-givers" no less than does Hammurabi, Justinian, the Barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta or, for that matter, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution itself! But Chief Justice Moore made it quite plain, from the very beginning, that his "monument" was intended to influence the arresting of what he saw as the moral decay of American society through the public adoption of religion as he himself saw it; therefore, far from its being a paean to the Ten Commandments as a source of Law, it was clearly intended to be an expression of those same words as a source of Religious Truth. Truly, that is not Separation of Church and State!
Now, on to all the Leftish faldoral in California:
I received an e-mail from the Democratic National Committee the other day which began as follows:
Impeachment. The 2000 Election. The California Recall. The pattern is becoming clear: Republicans will do anything to consolidate their power, including undermining our democratic institutions.
WHAT??!!... "[U]ndermining our democratic institutions"?!
Recall was put into the State Constitution of California back in 1911 by the vote of the People of that State themselves (presumably, those who oppose this Recall could subsequently, should they so desire, begin the process of amending that document to either make the current system of Recall better or harder to achieve or even remove it altogether and the People could vote to approve or reject said amendment should it be placed on some future California ballot); furthermore, if the People of the State of California wish to retain Gray Davis as their Governor or, upon recalling him, wish to replace him with a member of Governor Davis' own Party- the Democrats, they can make their position known by secret ballot come Tuesday 7 October. What could be more democratic than that?
But Governor Davis, who seems to enjoy digging an even deeper hole for himself as he campaigns against his own recall, stated- the other week, at the very beginning of his fight to retain his office- that "[t]his recall is bigger than California. What's happening here is part of an ongoing national effort by Republicans to steal elections they cannot win"... HUH?!... I hate to have to inform Governor Davis but, should he be recalled come 7 October and- at the same time- a Republican is elected to succeed him, then the Republicans were, indeed, able to win an election! Again, if the People of the State of California wish to retain Gray Davis as their Governor, they will have the opportunity to do so and, should they- instead- recall him, they also will have the opportunity to elect a Democrat in his place rather than a Republican.
The problem is that Governor Davis is the very type of Democrat that should make Democrats across the country- from the rank and file all the way up to those seeking that Party's Nomination for the Presidency- cringe, if not then dive under the nearest table for cover: the somewhat smarmy, "I know better what is in your own best interests than you yourself can possibly know" pol. Just as the Religious Right seeks to shove Religion-as-Morality down the throats of Americans, the "Lefties" among the Democrats likewise seek to shove Policy-become-Bureaucracy down those same throats and Gray Davis has become one of the poster children for this effort. Davis' own mea culpa (in which he said "I know that many of you feel that I was slow to act on the energy crisis... That's a fair criticism. I played the hand that was dealt me the best I know how") is somewhat disingenuous for, while it acknowledges a "fair criticism", it then immediately goes on to say, in effect, 'but, after all, it was really not my fault'. This all smacks of the drunk driver who, while under the influence of too much alcohol after spending several hours in a bar, mows someone down with his car but then, after showing at least some remorse, goes and blames the bartender for having the audacity to draw him a beer when he first walked into the place! In Governor Davis' case, it therefore should not be at all surprising that one who so often does not appear to acknowledge the ability of responsible citizens to make their own decisions (including that of deciding whether or not he should be recalled from office) should also seek to evade the fullest responsibility for the failures of his own Administration.
The fact that the Democrats failed to retake control of a U.S. House of Representatives that was well within their grasp back in 2000 (a loss for the Dems that I myself consider even worse than the failure of Al Gore to be elected to the Presidency in that same election) and then, two years later, lost effective control of a United States Senate that had so recently come back into their grasp through their having forced a tie in 2000 and then having a Republican become an Independent suggests to me just how ineffective a political strategy this is at this time. Yet this failure of a political strategy seemingly pervades the entire Democratic Party: even Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, one of those seeking the Presidency right now and certainly no flaming liberal, has not been at all immune. Recall the Vice-Presidential Debate (A QUIET LITTLE DIVERSION the one and only Vice Presidential Debate of Election 2000) preceding the 2000 Election in which Senator Lieberman, then the Vice Presidential Nominee of his Party, attempted to outline what he considered to be "a very exciting deduction" being put forth as part of the Gore-Lieberman campaign's proposals for the Federal Tax Code and then had to wade through a rather confusing exercise in number-crunching to which eventual Vice President Dick Cheney then retorted, "You'd have to be a CPA to understand what he just said: the fact of the matter is that that plan is so complex that an ordinary American's never going to figure out what they can qualify for and it is a classic example of wanting to have a program- in this case, a tax program- that will, in fact, direct people to live their lives in certain ways rather than empower them to make decisions for themselves." But, of course, Democrats such as Gray Davis or even, so it appears, Joe Lieberman- no less than those on the opposite side of the political spectrum protesting the removal of Alabama Chief Justice Moore's "monument" to the Decalogue from the state's main courthouse- appear to have a rather hard time accepting that the very essence of Liberty entitles Americans to, at least in the vast majority of cases, so make decisions for themselves!