Hey, Supreme Court

LET RELIGION TAKE CARE OF ITSELF

20 February 2021

 

   Donald Trump did major damage to our country, and how much of it is reversible will only become apparent over time. Right now, things look pretty bad.

   A major loss attributable to the Trump presidency is his completion of the task of eliminating the Supreme Court as the third branch of our government, and making it a mere servant of political conservatism. In putting aside both ethics and commitment to Constitutional Government, the former President and the former Republican-controlled Senate loaded the courts with idealogues almost certain to favor conservative points of view in whatever issues are brought before them. As Supreme Court appointments are for life, there is little chance of bringing balance back for many, many years.

   This stacking of the Court was Trump’s special present to a certain group of “christians.”[1] They were willing to overlook his obvious “unchristian” character faults, and his lack of any governmental experience, and vote for him if he would promise them a Court that would be likely to overturn some previous judgments that these “christians” had opposed. At the top of their list were the protections previously acknowledged for abortion rights and same-sex marriages. They delivered the vote, and  Trump kept the promise.

 

*  *  *

   Religious zealots (well, zealots of any ilk) always know exactly what is right and wrong with the world; and, if it’s right or wrong for them, it’s obviously the same for everybody else. If they can’t force everybody else to believe what they believe, or do what they do, they feel that somehow it’s them – or their faith - that is being persecuted. I can see why these Trump supporters would like a Court that would ultimately agree with their beliefs, making us all constitutional hostages to their limited viewpoint. What I can’t see is why the Supreme Court would even be involved in their issues. Consider it from a Constitutional standpoint.

   At the time our “founding fathers” were considering what our new nation should look like, one group lobbied hard to have a government resting on, and directed by, religion. But it wasn’t just any religion – they wanted to make it mandatory that our President and all elected members of Congress were avowed Christians. They believed that only Christians could develop our country as a truly moral nation. They worried a lot about worldly men directing us, but they worried just as strongly that – without the Christian requirement – we might one day find ourselves ruled by atheists, Catholics, Jews, or Moslems! That was an appalling prospect for those who felt the new United States was de facto a Christian Nation.

   No doubt, there were some in decision-making roles who would have favored a Christian Government, but when the discussions were concluded and the Constitution and Bill of Rights were finalized, the “founding fathers” hadn’t just said that we are not a Christian nation. They said, in essence, “Hell no, we are not any kind of religious nation!” Their reasoning, stated and presumed, was along several lines.

   1. One of the principal reasons for leaving Britain was to escape royal rule and a government in which religion and politics were inseparably intertwined.

   2. Although some people came to America seeking religious freedom, they were a small segment of the early immigration. While many (maybe even a majority, at that time) talked freely about a Creator, Providence, and Divine Judgment, those were just the kinds of things that people said. Most weren’t all that interested in religion.

   3. The “religious freedom” sought by the most vocal was the ability to practice their own specific religion without interference. The developers of the Constitution realized that those advocates weren’t interested in religious freedom for anybody else; in fact, took great pains to deny it.

   4. Those wanting to make “christianity” a religious test for all office holders wanted to be the deciders on who were real Christians. Since every “christian” sect and cult had its own ideas about what was godly and what wasn’t, the “founding fathers” wisely opted not to become arbiters in those in-house arguments.

   5. Anyone not a “christian” zealot (and that included a lot of “christians”) knew that the idea of an all-“christian” government assuring a moral country was ludicrous. Name any “sin,” misdeed, mistake, or failing that could be attributed to a non-“christian,” and every convention delegate could no doubt think of at least one “christian” they knew who was guilty of the same thing, or worse.

 

   Religious zealots were disappointed in (what they perceived as) the exclusion of God from the Constitution, and fought on to make the United States a “Christian Nation.” The presidential election of 1800 proved a referendum when they – joined by politicians with less holy motives – tried to convince voters that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist, and unfit for national office. They failed, but probably not because Jefferson was an atheist (he wasn’t) or because he wouldn’t proclaim himself a stronger “christian.” As summarized by one author:

   “First, a large number of Americans were indifferent about religious matters, and they, therefore, cast their votes on issues other than Jefferson’s beliefs. Second, those professing Christianity disagreed among themselves over essential beliefs and practices, as evidenced by increased competition among a growing number of sects and denominations. Third, and most important in the election of 1800, a majority of voters held religion to be a matter beyond the federal government’s jurisdiction.”[2]

*  *  *

   The Constitution and the Courts have been pretty good about protecting religious freedom, in recent years expanding their interpretation to include “religions” that don’t necessarily worship a “god.” What they haven’t done very well is keep the religious and non-religious  (i. e., Church and State) separate. Religion has snuck in to our government in various ways. Our money has proclaimed “In God we trust” since 1864, although it didn’t become our official motto until 1956. Our pledge of allegiance didn’t refer to a nation being “under God” until 1954 (although some say this was more a political, rather than strictly religious, move, aimed at differentiating us from the evil, atheistic communists). These little incursions are annoying to those of us who think that belief in a god is strictly personal, and has no place in governance. We’d like our Government freed of religious symbolism – the United States clearly is not “under God” (if there is one), and most people (even “christians”) don’t really “trust in God.” We seem to have committed ourselves from Independence to a sort of background “civil religion[3],” so those annoyances are not likely to go away. What we – and the Supreme Court – should be concerned about are the fringe religious beliefs that some zealots are trying to make the Law of the Land. Three issues are likely to arise for the new Court to review.

   1. Prayer in school. By a 6 to 1 vote in 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring a prayer time in public schools was a violation of the Constitution. Four or five subsequent court rulings have reaffirmed that first opinion. As certain “christians” still feel cheated by the decision, no doubt they will try again with the new “bought” Court.

   Nothing has changed. No matter how the argument is reformatted to claim they want – not a “christian” prayer time – but a moment of silence, time for reflection, or some time for everybody to consider their circumstances, it is still a demand for a “christian” prayer service. By their own standards – the New Testament, Book of Matthew 5-7, - it is hypocritical for them to even ask for it:

  And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

   In shorter form: when you pray in public, you are just showing off!

 

   2. Same sex marriage, and other LGBTQ rights.  The Constitution says that all people are created equal. (It didn’t say that at first; it said “all men,” and the founders didn’t really even mean that, as they didn’t consider Blacks, Indians, or even White men who didn’t own property to be real “men.” Subsequent amendments to the Constitution have corrected those “oversights,” and added women, as well.) Anything legally or Constitutionally available to anyone is available to all.

   Objections of some (but far from all) religious groups to gay marriage and other rights of non-“straight” people (a horrible differentiation!) are based on beliefs that such behavior is not “natural,” or in some obscure religious “laws.” Them “believing” that something isn’t “natural” doesn’t make it so. Regardless, someone’s perception of “naturalness’ has nothing to do with the Constitution.

   Marriage – same-sex or otherwise – is not a Constitutional issue, nor is any other LGBTQ issue that involves the “civil rights” guaranteed all citizens. The Supreme Court has no business making national policy. On the other hand, many states have legal requirements about marriage that are clearly federally unconstitutional, in that they interfere with Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. The Supreme Court should attack these infringements (most of which are “religious” restrictions) head-on. Basic state laws protecting the partners and progeny of a “marriage” may or may not be constitutional; those that place limits on who marries who, or how a marriage is structured or consummated, clearly are not.

 

  3. Abortion. When Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973 (by a 7-2 margin), they ruled that it was unconstitutional for states to make laws denying women the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. They considered it a basic individual rights issue that Government could not constitutionally interfere with. The only caveats to their ruling in Roe (and a follow-up decision) related to the age at which a fetus could be considered “viable.” For a court ruling, it was a pretty good one, I think. Unfortunately, many states choose to ignore the decision, and still take draconian steps to interfere with the “right to choose,” including trying to outlaw abortions within the state, prohibiting doctors from performing abortions, closing down abortion clinics, etc. The executive branch of the Federal government has been slow to take action against the states that continue to block civil rights.

   Although abortion opponents often try to portray it as a “right to life” fight, their stances on other issues show otherwise. In recurring polls taken over the last 20 years, only about one-third of those interviewed have any problems with Roe. The ones who do overwhelmingly identify themselves as “evangelicals” and Republicans, the same groups usually supportive of capital punishment, preemptive wars, and “extreme rendition” (torture, often leading to death or injury), and who often oppose the government funding of prenatal or postnatal care, daycare services, and aid to poor and minority families with children. Their care for “life,” and for children once they are born, is pretty limited.

   The “facts” about abortion are also distorted. In the United States, the abortion rate of around 20 per 1000 women, is similar to that of Canada, Great Britain, Australia, France, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Nine out of ten abortions performed in the United States in recent years are have been done before the twelfth week of pregnancy. Medical opinion is that a fetus is not “viable” (capable of surviving outside of the womb) until 24 to 28 weeks. In other words, “babies” are not being “killed.”

   Of the hundred kazillion sperms and ova that humans produce every day, many have the potential to be part of the creation of a human being. That potential is seldom realized because most sperms never have a chance to meet most ova, either because they are never in proximity to one another, or because steps have been taken to assure that their meetings will not be fruitful. (It’s called “birth control.”) Occasionally, sure-fire birth control turns out not to be sure-fire. Sometimes, passion trumps planning. Sometimes, birth control is not available, sometimes because the same religious people who don’t want abortions don’t want people to have ready access to birth control, either. And sometimes, the worst happens, when viable sperm meets viable ova as a result of sexual assault – rape. Pregnancy is not an expected, or hoped for, outcome in any of those cases. Where is the morality in punishing any of those individual events? For any “christian” against abortion in those cases, I suggest they re-read their New Testament, and ponder the words of Jesus.

 

* * *

   I don’t know why the Supreme Court decided to meet on school prayer, same-sex marriage, and abortion. Each issue was brought before them by  a relatively small  group of religious zealots, hoping to impose their beliefs on all American citizens. Whatever the reason, the Supreme Court                    made pretty good decisions, all pretty much slam dunks constitutionally, and all supported by something like two-thirds of Americans. They were reasoned conclusions arrived at by large majorities, not the 5 to 4 decisions so prevalent in the recent politicized Court. There is no reason to revisit any of the three, unless it is to make it even clearer that states must comply with the Federal mandates concerning the civil rights of non-religious zealots. Any other action by the new Trump Court will just be further confirmation that we no longer have a real Supreme Court.

  


[1] I’m using “christian” in lower-case and between quotation marks because I’m talking about only one of many sects that claim to be Christian, but have very different viewpoints on many issues that one might think are critical to the profession of any Christian’s faith. I don’t mean any respect to the beliefs of Christianity, as expressed in the Judeo-Christian bible.  I can’t judge who are really Christians because, like Bertrand Russell many years ago, I can’t really figure out what is the current definition of that religion.

[2] Page 281 in: Lamber, F. 2003. The Founding Fathers and the place of religion in America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

[3] Meacham, J. 2006. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. New York, New York: Random House.


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