Well, I had pretty much decided just to be a little sad about and pray for the soul of Marc Paige, who wrote to the Providence Journal with the all-too-easy (and all-too-foolish) linkage of the Pope's statement about protecting marriage and the abuse scandal. I was still content to leave it alone even when, upon looking for more info about what the Pope said, I discovered that Mr. Paige is a GLAD board member, Jewish, an HIV positive AIDS activist ("The reality is that three-quarters of high school students have sex by the time they graduate,'' Paige said. "They need to know how to protect themselves."), a prolific letter writer, and apparently a resident of Fort Lauderdale, to boot. But that's all to be expected.
What inspired me to write this post was a tangentially related piece titled "Inapproriate mingling of religion and justice system in Rhode Island," by RI Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato. It's all pretty standard nonsense:
This is dangerous territory into which the attorney general and the chief justice intrude as they breach the "hedge or wall" that Roger Williams said must separate church and state. The pronouncement that one needs a religious faith and that without it one is "dead" is a theological opinion, not a legal one. Liberty of conscience permits anyone to hold any faith they wish, but judicial officers should not proclaim their views from a church pulpit provided to them solely because they hold public office. Does anyone believe that if Frank J. Williams and Patrick C. Lynch were private citizens who did not hold important statewide appointed and elective offices, they would be invited to speak on matters of faith to any congregation?
Standard, that is, until one comes to this non sequitur of a paragraph:
However, one can fairly inquire as to what Judeo-Christian principles justified the theft of land from Native Americans, allowed slavery and later Jim Crow, denied the vote to women, permitted child labor and justified the locking up of Japanese-Americans for no reason other than the color of their skin and the land of their ancestors. More currently, what Judeo Christian principles allow the incarceration of human beings without charge, without trial and without counsel. What Judeo-Christian principles support laws that let some people accumulate vast fortunes, while others work for substandard wages?
This is a man who parses the law for a living? He was arguing against the notion that "the Founding Fathers huddled over the Bible or other religious tracts in designing our government," so I'm not sure what one is supposed to take from this paragraph. As a matter of the language, it looks like he's arguing that the fact that all of those things were justified means that our society isn't Judeo-Christian in nature. Somehow, I think he means to imply the opposite... although that would imply that our society is Judeo-Christian, and worse off for being so. Or is he arguing that it isn't, but would have been better off if it were? Or is he just throwing in a bunch of bogeymen so he can shout "Ha!," stamp his foot, and then leave the room thinking he's won?
Whatever the case, once again, we've got a representative of the elite class flattening our actual intellectual history and assuming that it therefore matches his attenuated ideology. Our foundation clearly makes use of a struggling balance between reason and faith, which is why we've done so much to end longstanding oppressive practices that Fortunato seems inclined to attribute to one side only.
What a shame that the good judge's point is that civic figures oughtn't exercise their freedom of speech when it comes to religion.
Marc Comtois explicitly makes a point that I only implied regarding Fortunato's historical tangent:
Fortunato accuses Judeo-Christian principles of falling short in many areas when, in fact, the opposite is true. The abolitionist movement was firmly rooted in New England churches and eventually brought an end to slavery. Need I remind Fortunato that Dr. Martin Luther King was a Reverend? I'm not going to attempt to counter all of Fortunato's attacks, but all of the examples cited by Fortunato have been addressed, one way or another with varying degrees of success, in an attempt to correct past misdeeds. Americans have a conscience, this conscience isn't a result of some rationally and humanistically moral "immaculate conception." Rather, it is based on the Judeo-Christian beliefs of our country's founding generations, the same beliefs that Fortunato chooses to belittle and downplay.
There's so much work for Rhode Island conservatives (a small group that includes myself and Marc) to do.Posted by Justin Katz at March 5, 2004 1:43 PM