Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The United States Supreme Court is set to meddle again

I very much enjoyed Rich Lowry's ruminations on the mess the Supreme Court has in the past made and in the near future almost certainly will make regarding the Establishment Clause:

The Supreme Court has just heard oral arguments in two cases — one in Kentucky, the other in Texas — involving the display of the Ten Commandments, thus opening another act in the long-running absurdist drama known as "Supreme Court Establishment Clause Jurisprudence." The First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Throughout most of American history that has been taken to mean — oddly enough — that government can't establish a religion. It is the Supreme Court in recent decades that has taken this straightforward admonition and made it an impossible-to-understand mess. So the other day Justice David Souter mused aloud whether a display of only the last five commandments — so much for honoring your mother and father (No. 4) — might be constitutional in a way that a display of all 10 is not. A better question is: If a Ten Commandments display establishes a religion, exactly what religion is it? Is it Judaism? And if so, Orthodox or Reform? Or is it Christianity? If so, Roman Catholic or Protestant? If the latter, is it Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, or something else? Maybe Seventh-day Adventist? If government has gone to the trouble of establishing a religion, shouldn't all of us know which one? Or is this just another case of government's notorious bureaucratic inefficiency? It meant to establish a religion, but memos got crossed somewhere and it couldn't agree on its fundamental tenets?
I will add only that the Supreme Court could benefit from just the slightest historical perspective. When the Pilgrims -- and most other earlier settlers -- came to America, they were not escaping from religion. Instead, they were escaping from state mandated religion. The Establishment Clause, as Lowry so correctly points out, merely ensures that the state does not impose a mandatory religion on its citizens. However, over the years, the Courts have interpreted it to require that religion be removed entirely from the marketplace -- although lately, as Lowry again points out -- it's sneaking back in the form of fairly meaningless bows to non Judeo-Christian religions, old and new:
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty argues in an amicus brief, reasonably enough, that government is always going to reflect the culture around it, and therefore acknowledge the varied religiosity of America. New York City marks a tree in Tompkins Square Park the "Hare Krishna Tree." In Hawaii, the federal government has bestowed special status to the Pu'ukohola Heiau Temple in honor of the war god Kuka'ilimoku. The United States Capitol displays a monument of the Roman goddess of Liberty, and yet countless millions of nonpagans have visited the Capitol without lodging any objection.
Just as a last word, I suggest reading Stephen L. Carter's The Culture of Disbelief (see link somewhere in the sidebar or at the bottom of my web page). Although the book was written a decade ago, it's right on the money about the Liberal establishment's desperate efforts to ignore America's profoundly religion-based history, to sideline religious values, and basically to pretend that religion doesn't exist.