James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, June 27, 2005

Court Split on Religion

I hope that after Raich and Kelo Americans will begin to realize that they can't rely on constitutions and courts to protect their rights and freedoms. After those landmark judgments, any decision on Ten Commandments displays in state courtrooms is extremely trivial in comparison.

Both sides ought to wonder why they waste their time. Who cares if the there is a complete separation of Church and State, if at the same time the feds can arrest grandma for taking "immoral" medications, and your town government can just up and steal your land from you?

Of all the things states do that they ought not do, public displays of religion and even tax support for a particular church are the least serious and least important. The most violent religious persecution in the USA was, I believe, against Mormons, and that was chiefly mob action instead of government action. The reason the Salem witch trial controversy is remembered is because it was an anomaly in our religious history. The greatest institutional religious injustice was technically nonsectarian - the establishment of public schools so as to indoctrinate immigrants into the virtues of generic Protestantism instead of their native Catholicism.

Even today as hysterical and ill-informed charges of "theocracy" are directed toward the President and his support base, we must keep in mind that the divisions between conservatives and liberals go through all denominations, and Bush's own, Methodist, is considered mainline and liberal. Even conservative fundamentalists don't want state sponsorship of church, for they are from too many denominations and independent churches themselves. And even if they wanted to install draconian Levitical punishment - and the numbers of real theocrats who desire this are small and their political power is much smaller - much of that can be done in religious-neutral language.

Keep in mind, further, that there's been virtually no Protestant vs. Protestant violent conflict since the early years of the Reformation. For 200 years individual colonies, and then states, had state support for religion and had a "religious test" for public office. And yet those colonies/states had few if any religious conflicts within their own borders, let alone with each other. Indeed, rigidly secular countries, from Turkey to Cuba, are not free. Granted, neither are rigidly religous countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. But Canada and many European countries still have varying kinds and degrees of state support for religion. Both ACLU members and Christian fundamentalists would rather live in one of them than in a rigidly all-secular or all-religous country. A display of the Ten Commandments won't usher in the Taliban.

This isn't an argument to include religious symbolism at government sites where they weren't previously there. It certainly isn't an argument to go back to state support for religion. But it is to say that no one is suffering in the places where they presently exist. An individual is neither more nor less likely to receive justice if there is a Ten Commandments display in the courtroom. Even when church and state were more closely tied in our country, the Inquisition never came. It certainly won't come in a more pluralistic society.

It is time that the Supreme Court left well enough alone and stopped harrassing state and local governments on matters of religion.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that it would not be the end of the world if the 10 Commandments hung in courtrooms or if there were Nativity Scenes on courthouse lawns. Most of the issues seem very trivial in these church/state brouhahas. I reckon that this is because of the strong feeling on both sides that if you give an inch you will be giving a mile.