Monday, June 27, 2005

Decades of the Decalogue

In his concurring opinion in today's disappointing Supreme Court decision in Van Orden v. Perry Justice Breyer notes:
As far as I can tell, 4o years passed in which the presence of this monument, legally speaking, went unchallenged (until the single legal objection raised by petitioner). And I am not aware of any evidence that this was due to a climate of intimidation. Hence, those 40 years suggest more strongly than can any set of formulaic tests that few individuals, whatever their system of beliefs, are likely to have understood the monument as amounting, in any significantly detrimental way, to a government effort to favor a particular religious sect, primarily to promote religion over nonreligion, to "engage in" any "religious practice," to "compel" any "religious practice," or to "work deterrence" of any "religious belief."
This is quite a precedent, amounting to a sort of squatter's right for the surrender of our constitutional protections. While good arguments have been made that opposition to such ostensibly harmless public religious displays is not as important as contesting more substantive forms of religious discrimination, today's decision seems to invalidate this line of reasoning. Instead, the folly of tolerating even minor public endorsement of religion is laid bare before us. Similar arguments have been made in other venues, with respect to the "one nation, under god" clause of the Pledge of Allegiance, for example, and the "in god we trust" motto on our currency. Methinks, perhaps, we doth protest too little.

While challenging these monuments on constitutional grounds may no longer be tenable, there is ample opportunity to argue with their very substance. Perhaps if the surrounding citations from Exodus were regularly displayed (see, for example, the absurdity of promoting such religious codes as the basis for our contemporary legal system would be more apparent.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Enforce the 1st Amendment

In January of this year a federal court ruled that Gibson County, Indiana's courthouse lawn display of the Decalogue was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Not content to permit the judiciary such latitude, U.S. Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind) decided to take the issue to Congress. This week, he succeded in attaching an amendment to a House appropriations bill that would prohibit federal funds from being used to enforce the ruling.

The New York Times, in an editorial yesterday, called on the Senate to excise the offensive provision:
Since the Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison in 1803, it has been clearly established that the courts have the ultimate power to interpret the Constitution. But right-wing ideologues, unhappy with some of the courts' rulings, have begun to question this principle as part of a broader war on the federal judiciary. The amendment that passed this week reflected an effort to use Congress's power to stop the courts from standing up for the First Amendment and other constitutional principles.
According to an Associated Press story appearing in the Indianapolis Star, even Mr. Hostettler's local constituents are loathe to support his latest crusade:
Gibson County officials have distanced themselves from Hostettler, saying there was never any intent to defy the federal court order, which could prompt U.S. marshals to descend on the city to remove it instead.

“We’re law-abiding people,” said Jerry Stilwell, the Princeton attorney who defended the county in a lawsuit seeking the monument’s removal. “Whether we like the ruling or not is irrelevant.”
We probably have less than a week until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on two Ten Commandments display cases - depending on the reception given that opinion we might see more creative legislative attempts to eviscerate our Constitution.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Team Jesus Christ

In an editorial titled "Team Jesus Christ" the Washington Post opines on the recent investigation into accusations of religious intolerance at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
More important, it's imperative that the Air Force ensure that the academy welcomes and accommodates cadets of all faiths, or none at all. Cadet training is, by its nature, an experience in which young men and women are under enormous pressure to conform. It is especially important, in that atmosphere, that cadets not feel that professing a certain religion is part of the norm to which they must adhere. Cadets need to know that they can serve the Air Force, and their country, even if they haven't signed up for Team Jesus Christ.
In a separate story in the Post, the superintendent of the Academy has acknowledged that religious intolerance at the institution is pervasive.

Friday, June 03, 2005

What did Einstein Say?

NBC television Monday, May 30, had an absurd segment on "The Power of Prayer." In it was asserted that scientists are increasingly believing in the power of prayer. This is quite false. Research shows no effect whatsoever from prayer at a distance if the subject has no knowledge of the prayer.

The only reference to a scientist in this piece was to Einstein. The comment was to the effect that Einstein tried to find a unified field theory and that a unified field theory was God. The incoherence of this as a reference to demonstrate that scientists are now believing in the power of prayer is positively breathtaking.

Einstein did not believe in a personal God at all and he certainly did not believe that anything could be gained by praying to a God. Quotes of Einstein:

"Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a supernatural Being." [Einstein - The Human Side]

"The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events - provided, of course, that he takes the hypothesis of causality really seriously." [New York Times Magazine November 9, 1930]

Einstein had a deep sense of reverence but that reverence was exclusively for the lawful behavior of the universe. Einstein did talk about a "cosmic religious feeling" that is associate with experiencing "the Universe as a single significant whole." This has nothing whatsoever to do with classical religious teaching about a personal god. It is unfortunate that sloppy journalism would slander the memory of this most noble scientist.