The Radical Approach
April 13, 2005
By Jason Miller
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
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
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
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
He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.