(Click on the logo to return to the main blog.)

Adams Forgot his Franklin
08/27/2003

Glenn Reynolds has added further updates to the post that I spent some time addressing yesterday. In an apparent effort to be fair and balanced, he links Clayton Cramer, who also takes up atheists' favorite Founder one-liners.

Let me re-quote John Adams:

It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

Well, although Cramer doesn't make the connection, he does quote this from Ben Franklin during a federal convention in 1781:

In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity.

In addition to linking to Cramer, Reynolds makes a point that would seem to bear on the question of whether, in rejecting the dictates of the federal government (as represented by the courts), Judge Moore was being true to his duties as a leader in his own state. Reynolds cites the following bit of Alabama Constitution and suggests that Moore broke with it:

That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.

Forgive what may seem deliberate obtuseness to the secularist-government crowd, but I don't see how this applies. The only clauses that even come close are the first two, and I don't think they quite make it. The question to which I find myself continually returning is this: How easy is it to "establish" a religion? From the simple language, one would think that it would require an act of a government declaring (probably through legislation), "The Evangelical Church is hereafter the official Church of the State of Alabama," probably with some explanation of what the practical implications of such status would be. But, boy, to listen to the secularists talk, one cannot help but be glad that establishment clauses exist at all: without them, a judge erecting a monument of the Commandments would seem to legitimate the local preacher's slipping behind the mayor's desk!

Similarly, I don't see how a monument of the Ten Commandments indicates that "preference" is "given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship." Primarily, a monument does not a law make. If judges and law enforcement officers are able to act without preference in the execution of their duties, particularly as described in the remaining clauses of the above quoted paragraph, then the monument has had zero effect, much less, indeed, than can be construed about use of the Bible for swearing in. To be sure, there was a period in Alabama when the judiciary felt it appropriate to hang the Ten Commandments within the courtroom itself, until the ACLU made it a federal issue.

At bottom, it ought not be a crime for a person or group of people acting within the public sphere to acknowledge their — and their government's — heritage. That such an intent should be newly discovered within decades- or centuries-old documents indicates that a dogma of another sort is at play here. It's one that I'd say is related to Alabama's 622nd Amendment, which acknowledges that "Federal and state laws 'neutral' toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise." 622 also mentions that the Supreme Court had stricken a similar law passed by the U.S. Congress, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, on the grounds that "the right to regulate was retained by the states." It would seem that the judicial oligarchy has changed its mind significantly since 1997: the right to regulate is now apparently held by the federal judiciary.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:41 PM EST