Monday, February 8, 2010

Legal Right: "Separation of Church and State" Deniers.

We're all quite familiar with the term Religious Right, the name given to primarily Catholic, evangelical and fundamentalist organizations that work to legislate conservative, discriminatory "pro-life," and "traditional" (whatever that means) values in the US. Lately, Kathryn Tucker and others have identified what they term the Medical Right, conservative Christian medical organizations that work for the same purposes in the medical industry.

But in this assignation of influential powers the Right has built over the last 40 years, we would be remiss to not include the Legal Right, dedicated to working the courts to keep laws that ascribe to one particular interpretation of faith on the books.

Beliefnet has a fine little feature called "Lynn v. Sekulow," the principle characters, pitted against one another in e-dialogue, being Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the Pat Robertson-funded American Center for Law and Justice.

Here's the latest from Sekulow, who side-steps Lynn's calling for the Obama administration to reform Bush's faith-based initiatives (churches do good things!), and delves into a fine bit of disingenuous rationalizing (and ACLU bashing) on a lawsuit that would allow a court judge to continue to display the ten commandments in his courtroom:

For nearly a decade now, the ACLU has been trying to silence Judge DeWeese's expression of his legal philosophy. That philosophy, which holds that a society's legal system must rest on moral absolutes as opposed to moral relativism, and that abandonment of moral absolutes leads to societal breakdown and chaos, is the same philosophy that was held by the founders of this nation.

To say, as the ACLU does in this case, that a judge may not espouse such a view because it is 'religious' is to adopt an erroneous and timeworn interpretation of the First Amendment that is not based on the words, the history or the Founders' understanding of the Constitution.

At issue is a poster designed to illustrate Judge DeWeese's legal philosophy. The poster features two columns of principles or precepts intended to show the contrast between legal philosophies based on moral absolutes and moral relativism. The judge used a version of the Ten Commandments as symbolic of moral absolutes, and a set of statements from sources such as the Humanist Manifesto as symbolic of moral relativism.

In a our initial brief filed in December, we argue that the ACLU lacks legal standing in the case, that the lower court erred in determining that the display violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and violates articles of the Ohio Constitution, and contends that the Judge's display is protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

The brief contends that Judge DeWeese's display is constitutional: "Neither DeWeese's discussion of the contrast between legal philosophies based on moral absolutes as opposed to moral relativism, nor his use of the Decalogue as a means to illustrate that contrast bespeak a constitutionally problematic religious purpose," the brief argues. "Moreover, a reasonable observer of the poster would view the poster as a statement about legal philosophy, morality, and ethics, not theology or religion."

Emphasis above is mine. Sekulow is talking about a poster of the ten commandments! And he is hedging the obvious in a number of ways: Society (guided by the notoriously un-nuanced media) tends to view religion as a benign good or as an intrusive evil, either one but primarily the former. Sekulow is disingenuous in arguing that the judge's objective is not to impose religious laws (absolute, not relative) but to present a moral, ethical guide. He's posting the ten commandments! By appealing to our ideas of benign faith, Sekulow hopes to get God in the back door. It's like calling creationism "intelligent design" and convincing the school board that it's a theory just like evolution.

However obvious the objective of these misleadingly-named organizations (who could oppose law and justice? defending "life"? supporting families?), we fail to counter them appropriately, by smoking out their theocratic intentions.

But the real point Sekulow makes in the above post is that he is a "separation of church and state" denier, one of the many theocratically-inclined who base their need to enforce their version of God's laws on the country via an elaborately constructed but ahistorical version of American's founding, its Constitution and writers, and American "traditions". They have no room for other faiths, other lifestyles, other choices. That is, after all, what absolute means.

The great irony is that Sekulow and other Legal Right organizations don't acknowledge that their proclamation of faith is only protected by the separation of church and state. Undermining that separation is all well and good for them until a theocracy other than their own rises to power. How would they read the constitution then?

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