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The Radical Approach

April 13, 2005
By Jason Miller

An article that appeared in the Kansas City Star yesterday stirred some serious doubts in my mind about the rationality of those leading the Christian Right movement.

Nina Easton of the Boston Globe indicated in the article that key leaders of the conservative Christian movement met in Washington this past week to formulate their strategy to take control of the judiciary. They castigated George Bush, brother Jeb, Dick Cheney, and Bill Frist for failing to take a strong enough stand against the courts in the Terri Schiavo situation.

Subverting the Constitution by abusing legislative authority to interfere in a judicial matter was not enough to satisfy these dogmatic radicals? Merely the implication that Bush and his compatriots were too moderate in their actions is a testament to the perverse worldview of the Christian Right.

According to Ms. Easton's article, leading members of the Christian Right are pushing the President and Congress to impeach "activist" judges, cut funding to "activist" courts, and pass legislation like the Constitutional Restoration Act of 2005 - which would seriously limit the power of the Judicial branch, and affirm that God is the sovereign source of "law, liberty, or government." I conclude that the God in the text of the Constitution Restoration Act is the Christian God since Senator Sam Brownback, a darling of Conservative Christians, co-sponsored the bill.

The fact that the bill references God, and assumes it to be the Christian God, is another troubling aspect of the Christian Right. They assume that every American in this diverse nation of many religions embraces the notion that the Christian God and the Bible are sacrosanct. America's Constitution does not mention God. Our government was intended to be secular, and has been throughout its history. Passage of this legislation would essentially replace Constitutional authority with Biblical authority. If left to the devices of the Christian Right movement, and its supporters like Senator Brownback, the United States would become a theocracy.

One of the key justifications that American supporters of our imperialistic policies in the Middle East employ is that the Islamic theocracies (like that of Iran) pose a threat to American security because of their radical nature. Yet we have our own religious fundamentalists who are clamoring to form a theocracy here in the United States.

The Christian Right is firmly behind America's unprovoked attack on Iraq (which actually had a secular government) that was falsely based on claims that Iraq was affiliated with the Islamic fundamentalists who perpetrated 9/11. 1500 Americans have died, hundreds of billions of dollars that could have funded humanitarian efforts here and abroad have been wasted, and untold thousands of innocent Iraqi civillians have died while America's own radical entity, the Christian Right, waves the flag and spurs Bush on to "spread freedom and liberty". Irony and hypocrisy ooze from its pores.

As I continued reading Ms. Easton's article, I discovered that the audience applauded when leaders called for "the removal of judges who think that interpretations of the US Constitution should change with the times." It shocked my intellect when I read that Rick Scarborough, the sponsor of this meeting of Christian conservatives, stated that, "it's about a temporal versus eternal value system." A cursory study of Supreme Court and Constitutional history, and the application of some critical thinking, clearly demonstrate the irrationality of this line of thinking.

The Constitution was written by our founding fathers, many of whom were certainly well-intentioned, and showed great fortitude and intellect in forging our nation. However, most of the authors of our nation's supreme law were wealthy white land-owners, and many of them owned slaves. They were products of their time. American society was patriarchal in nature and was dominated by white Christians. The Bill of Rights was an addendum to the Constitution that many of our most respected founding fathers, including James Madison, the principal author the Bill of Rights, added begrudgingly simply to garner enough votes to ratify the Constitution.

Would the Christian Right have America continue to interpret the Constitution as an "eternal value system" and apply the laws and ideas conveyed by our founders exactly as they wrote them? Let's examine how that might play out.

In order to accomodate the states whose economy relied heavily upon slave labor, the Constitution recognized slavery as a legal institution. On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States "interpreted" the Constitution - in a way that apparently would please today's Christian Right - in the Dred Scott case, in which Mr. Scott, a black slave, sued to win his freedom. He was from Missouri, a slave state, but under judicial precedent at that time, the fact that he had lived in the free state of Illinois for a period of time entitled him to his freedom. Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opionion for the Court', which ruled against Scott. Taney asserted that blacks were "never thought of or spoken of except as property" and that they were "doomed to slavery."

The Court rendered this decision when there were many free blacks living in the northern states, and Dred Scott had convincing legal precedent to support his claim. This represents an example of the Supreme Court supporting the Constitution's "eternal value" of slavery.

While the Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished slavery in the United States on December 6,1865, it did not end the servitude of blacks, particularly in the southern states. In the Jim Crow era of the South, which began with violent Southern resistance to Reconstruction after the Civil War (although the actual "Jim Crow" laws were not passed until the 1890s), the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremicist groups committed untold numbers of murders and atrocities against blacks.

Despite the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed blacks the rights of citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which prevented states from denying blacks the right to vote, the Supreme Court refused to uphold the rights of our black citizens.

The Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873 resulted in the Supreme Court determining that the citizenship granted by the Fourteenth Amendment was a national citizenship. The Court determined that this "national citizenship" was distinct from "state citizenship", and that each citizenship came with a different set of rights. Southern states were free to set their own standards for the rights of citizens within their states, without the ever-so-bothersome pressure from the Federal government to treat blacks like human beings. This ruling undermined the change wrought upon the Constitution by the Fourteenth Amendment and enabled southern states to continue to subjugate their black citizens.

Are these the type of "eternal values" that the Christian right seeks to protect from the "ravages" of the evolution of thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies?

Starting in the 1870s, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing in the United States. The "Gilded Age" saw men like John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and JP Morgan prosper to unimaginable heights of wealth. Meanwhile, the plight of the working class, immigrants and the poor grew more and more unbearable. The Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of business and industry in an environment of laissez-faire capitalism. The "crop lien" system enabled lenders to charge farmers 25% interest on their equipment loans, while railroads charged them astronomical rates to deliver their crops. Contracts and property were deemed more important than the suffering and loss of life sustained by thousands of workers (and consumers) victimized by hazardous working conditions, long hours, child labor, low pay, and unsafe products marketed to the public. In 1889 alone, 22,000 railroad workers sustained injury or death.

David Brewer, a Supreme Court Justice appointed to the Court in 1889, summarized the over-riding philosophy of the Court during the "Gilded Age" when he said that "absolute and eternal justice forbid that any private property could be destroyed in the interests of public health, morals, or welfare." He went on to say that "the love of acquirement, mingled with the joy of possession, is the real stimulus to human activity." Men like Brewer interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to mean that laws attempting to limit the power of business owners to dictate working conditions or rate of pay was a violation of their Constitutional right to "due process". It took violent riots like the Haymarket Tragedy and the incredibly courageous efforts of men like Eugene V. Debs to alter the political environment to the point that the Supreme Court finally started tilting its decisions toward economic justice for the common people.

Had the Christian Right been a powerful movement at that time, would they have fought to preserve the "eternal value" of laissez-faire economic policy from the "onslaught" of the "temporal values" of workers' rights?

The reality is that many in the Christian Right movement, and most Americans, have benefited handsomely from the fact that the Supreme Court has adapted its interpretation of the Constitution to changes in time. If one were to adopt the Christian Right's philosophy of Constitutional interpretation, there would still be slavery, our children would be working in factories at the age of ten, women would not be voting, there would be no minimum wage, and labor unions would not exist. With only a few historical examples, one can clearly see the folly of this line of thinking.

The other point to consider it that humanity is in a constant state of flux and evolution. People and society are not static. Change is one of the few constants in the universe. Therefore, it would be nonsense to maintain a fixed or static interpretation of the laws which govern us. Even the members of the Christian Right, who often claim to be strict adherents to literal interpretation of the Bible, have dismissed some of the archaic, and obviously problematic, laws from the Old Testament (i.e. working on the Sabbath, refraining from eating pork, stoning a bride to death if it is determined that she is not a virgin, providing animal sacrifices to God).

Hypocrisy again rules the day where the Religious Right is concerned. They apply "temporal value" interpretation to their own self-professed supreme law, yet like spoiled children, they demand to impose their will upon the rest of America by demanding that the judiciary interpret the Constitution using a lens that interprets according to "eternal values." Will America follow the White Rabbit into Wonderland, where logic and reason are indeed scarce commodities? Time will tell.

Jason Miller is a 38-year-old activist writer, and an active member of the ACLU. In his second life he is a husband, a father of three boys under the age of 14, and works as an account representative at a finance company. His blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, can be found at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com. He welcomes comments at willpowerful@hotmail.com.

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