« CAP Alert: Good Idea, Bad Execution • The Rants • Dover Watch - The Cheese Stands Alone (Mostly) »
What Don't You Get About "No Ten Commandments"?
2004.12.17 (Fri) 20:59
By now, the news of an Alabama judge wearing the Ten Commandments on his judicial robes when presiding over trials has surely made its way to all corners of the political world. Apparently, Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument antics, as well as the state's inability to repeal outright racism in the state constitution wasn't enough of a black eye for old 'Bama.
From ABC News online:
A judge refused to delay a trial Tuesday when an attorney objected to his wearing a judicial robe with the Ten Commandments embroidered on the front in gold.
Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan showed up Monday at his Covington County courtroom in southern Alabama wearing the robe. Attorneys who try cases at the courthouse said they had not seen him wearing it before. The commandments were described as being big enough to read by anyone near the judge.
[Former Alabama judge Roy] Moore said Tuesday he supports McKathan's decision to wear the Ten Commandments robe.
In general, if Roy Moore supports your cause, shouldn't that be a sign that you are wrong? After all, Moore was the primary voice of opposition in Alabama's vote to remove Jim Crow laws from the state's constitution last month.
Now, we're not going to judge the judge — he may well have the best of intentions in his wardrobe choice (though we seriously doubt it). But that doesn't matter. The bottom line is that you simply can't do this while holding a public office. As stated in a CNN.com FindLaw article:
[Judge McKathan] undermined the dignity of his robes by making them a billboard for his personal religious beliefs. ... Instead of wearing a black robe of sober dispassion, he came dressed to preach. And by so doing, he took direct aim at the system that is the signal achievement of the United States' pluralist democracy.
Indeed, when it comes to religion, an independent Constitutional mandate makes that crystal clear. The Establishment Clause is violated if the government's actions, or those of its agents, have the purpose or effect of furthering or hindering religion, or if government employees endorse a particular religious (or anti-religious) viewpoint. Here, there is no question that Judge McKathan has the purpose of furthering the Christian tradition. Nor is there any question that he is personally endorsing a particular religious doctrine. On both counts then, he has flagrantly violated the Establishment Clause.
Imagine a defendant who appears before Judge McKathan and who is accused of stealing, or who has a history of adultery. Would he be unreasonable to believe he will be judged by the Ten Commandments, not secular law? Of course not. Moreover, where does the Judge's resort to the Bible rather than the code to determine law end? The punishments in the Old Testament are a far cry from those required by law in this country. Nor would [the hypothetical defendant] be unreasonable to believe that he will receive harsher justice than a defendant whom the judge views as a "good Christian." Any non-Christian is going to feel disenfranchised, and rightly so.
The rules are simple: When the judge is acting in his personal capacity -- say, at church, or in the public square -- he has every right to proclaim his devotion to his faith, including its traditions. More power to him. But when he presides over a trial, he may not use his position to broadcast his religious views.
Of course, that isn't the end of the story. A few days back, the Supreme Court announced that they would hear arguments on March 2, 2005 for two cases which will decide this issue more formally. These cases are Van Orden v. Perry in Texas, and the Kentucky case, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky.
As an example, let's look at McCreary. The popular word on this is that the Commandments are displayed alongside various other documents of a secular nature, which together tell the tale of the development of the American legal system. That's not so bad. Or is it? The following is from the actual decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals which affirmed the need to remove the display:
In 1999, McCreary County erected a display of the Ten Commandments in the McCreary County Courthouse consisting of “at least one framed copy of one version of the Ten Commandments and [which] was not part of any larger educational, historical, or retrospective exhibit.”
Hmmm... No mention of other documents. In fact, just the Ten Commandments. So what about the other documents? Well, when concerned citizens filed a complaint about the religious displays, here's what the brief tells us happened next:
Shortly after the complaint was filed, Defendants modified the displays to include secular historical and legal documents, some of which were excerpted, and then filed respective motions to dismiss. Following a hearing ... the district court ... ordered that the displays be removed and that no similar displays be erected.
Defendants, allegedly acting on the belief that a display containing the Ten Commandments could be erected within the parameters of the Constitution, ... erected new displays containing several additional secular historical and legal documents in their entirety, along with the Ten Commandments.
Ah, here we have mention of the other documents, added quite a while after the original display was erected. So what were the other documents that were displayed? Also from the brief:
After Plaintiffs filed suit, Defendants amended the respective displays “in an attempt to bring the display[s] within the parameters of the First Amendment and to insulate themselves from suit.” Specifically, the Courthouse displays were modified to consist of:
(1) an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence; (2) the Preamble to the Constitution of Kentucky; (3) the national motto of “In God We Trust”; (4) a page from the Congressional Record of Wednesday, February 2, 1983, Vol. 129, No. 8, declaring it the Year of the Bible and including a copy of the Ten Commandments; (5) a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln designating April 30, 1863 a National Day of Prayer and Humiliation; (6) an excerpt from President Lincoln’s “Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible” reading, “The Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man.”; (7) a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan marking 1983 the Year of the Bible; and (8) the Mayflower Compact.
So, they replaced the Ten Commandments with a bunch of semi-religious political crap, and figured that would be dissimilar enough to avoid a lawsuit. Yeah, that's a noble intention if we've ever heard one. Not to mention that if they really wanted to erect a display to showcase documents that truly influenced the American legal system, then where are historical Babylon's Code of Hammurabi, ancient Rome's Twelve Tables, and medieval England's Magna Carta? These other cultures and their systems of law certainly had a major impact on our government and our legal system — do Roman senators ring a bell? We could go on, but now that any possible doubts about the intentions of these counties' officials are gone, we can move along.
With the McCreary case (among others) pending in the Supreme Court, many groups are taking sides. Of course, the ACLU is trying to protect civil liberties since that's the sole purpose of their existence. The other side is outlined in this Newsmax article:
[The] United States of America filed an amicus brief in support of Liberty Counsel’s arguments in the McCreary County case. Twenty-one states have also joined together to file amicus brief in support of the McCreary County case.
These states include: AL, FL, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, OH, OK, NM, PA, SC, TX, UT, VA, WI and WY.
"We are very pleased that the United States of America and twenty-two states have weighed in on our side. This broad-based show of support reveals the broad impact a decision on the Ten Commandments will have on America and our shared religious heritage."
An article from ABC News online further details our country's official stance from the amicus brief:
The [Bush] administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, Paul Clement, told justices in Wednesday's filing that Ten Commandments displays are common around the nation and in the [Supreme] court's own building, the Capitol and national monuments.
To us, the fact that the commandments are also displayed on other government properties — including the Supreme Court chambers — doesn't make the case to keep them up, it just means that they should be removed from all of these places.
Overall, we can only say how pleased we are that the federal government and twenty-two states have weighed in against the Constitution, our civil liberties, and the Establishment Clause. At this point, we can only look at the final refusal to hear Roy Moore's appeal, and hope the same fate awaits these other political figures who are trying to use their office as a pulpit. In the Moore decision, Justice Wilters from the Supreme Court of Alabama noted the following for Moore's benefit:
Chief Justice Moore offered both legal and biblical arguments for his failure to comply with the federal court's order [to remove the display]. Even if the biblical arguments could be considered, the Bible also tells us:
"Remind them to be submissive to the government and the authorities, to obey them, and to be ready for any honorable form of work; to slander no one, not to pick quarrels, to show forbearance and a gentle disposition towards all men."
Damn that bible! Just when you think you can use it as a hammer to pound home your own self-serving point, someone turns it against you....
We can only hope that a similar rebuke awaits the politicians in the pending commandment cases, as well as Judge McKathan and his amazing technicolor dream robes. With any luck, it will turn out that his special robes are made from a linen and woolen blend — according to the Bible, we may have to kill him for this heinous offense. Silly book.
— • —
[ Filed under: % Bush Watch % Civil Liberties % Government & Politics % Religion ]
— • —