Judge not the judges

especially without the facts

Newt is fading so quickly at the polls that this post may seem like kicking the wounded dog. Nonetheless, Newt rebounds quickly, even when he shoots himself in a vital organ. Whether or not he’s finished, he keeps serving himself up as defender of the faith. With the economy improving and Obama’s fortunes rising, I suspect more and more Republicans will try to reframe the debate around Jesus.

Recently he declared once again that federal judges need to be put in their place because of their open hostility to Christians. His campaign web site declares: “The revolutionary idea contained in the Declaration of Independence is that certain fundamental human rights, including the right to life, are gifts from God and cannot be given nor taken away by government. Yet, secular radicals are trying to remove “our Creator” – the source of our rights – from public life.”

This is a profound misinterpretation and is fundamentally misleading. The “right to life” in the declaration has nothing to do with abortion, it has to do with what John Locke’s social contract. Until the rise of the Christian right, even conservative scholars would have agreed that the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” meant the government had no right to take the life of a citizen without just cause.

Since the “right to life” stands on equal footing with the “right to pursue happiness,” Newt’s more restrictive interpretation of right to life as a stand against abortion puts the right to life in direct conflict with a woman’s right to pursue happiness. I would even go further and suggest that arch conservatives were always quick to point out the phrase “all men were endowed by their creator with the right to…” excludes women. Since men couldn’t have abortions, obviously right to life meant something different altogether.1

On the other hand, Republicans in the past have always claimed that the Declaration of Independence is little more than a statement of intent; the Constitution is the edifice on which this nation was built. This is because too XXXXX many liberals and Democrats appeal to the Declaration. God and the “right to life” appear nowhere in the Constitution. Even more horrifying, the “Creator” who endowed us (men) with our inalienable rights was a remote and impersonal deity. Many of the founding fathers were deists.

In a recent speech, Gingrich referenced a case from Central Texas to prove that Federal judges were little more than “dictatorial religious bigots.” The case, which I’ve discussed before, resulted in an injunction by San Antonio Judge Biery ruling on a lawsuit against Medina Valley High school, who, according to Newt, declared that “not only could students not pray at their graduation, if they used the word ‘benediction,’ the word ‘invocation,’ the word ‘God,’ asked the audience to stand or asked for a moment of silence, he would put the Superintendent in jail.”

Wrong on all accounts. Biery ruled that school officials and students couldn’t ask audience members to pray with them, could, in fact, speak of their faith as long as it wasn’t presented in a way that could be considered coercive, and, in fact, could say just about anything. However, an official benediction or invocation couldn’t be included as part of the official graduation program. Nor was anyone likely to go to jail since fines were also included in the possible penalties.

I have referred to the situation before as coercive prayer, and the Book of Daniel praises Jewish martyrs who would rather to be burned to death than forced to pray to another God. An option I’m sure Newt would take in the same situation. But Jesus’ invocation “do unto others as you would have them do to you” also means Christians shouldn’t coerce others to pray either. Judge Biery simply decided that the Constitution agreed with Jesus.

For Newt this means that the Constitution needs to be rewritten to stop judges from making the wrong decision (i.e., force them to bow to the will of local citizens and politicians).

The most important fact left out of Newt’s account is that the next higher court of appeals overturned the decision almost immediately. In other words, the judicial system tries to be self-correcting by referring decisions up the line to more experienced judges with more distance from the case. This seems to me to be far better than putting judges on a chopping block whenever they decide the law disagrees with a plaintiff or defendant.

This also serves to stress a more important issue. Jesus doesn’t need the Christian right to enforce his will on anyone. Nor does he want us to. People have to come to him of their own free will. To demand that they pray, in public, to our God (or to demand they give up their beliefs) is to behave exactly like the Babylonians, Assyrians, Soviets and other enemies of true faith.

1Okay, I’m playing semantic sleight of hand here. In my defense, however, semantic wrangling is a key element of being raised Baptist. If you can’t twist the scriptures to your own end, you’re little more than a heathen.back