Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

02/09/2012 (10:29 am)

Where the Republicans Can Win Big This Year

Barack Obama has made a serious, tactical error.

The attack on the Catholic Church in ObamaCare is deliberate and timed for the election. He hopes to use it to pretend that the Republican candidate, whoever that might be, is a big, scary religious fanatic who is against contraception. He believed his focus group data that said most people would side with an assault against the archaic, corrupt, fanatical, religious idiots.

His focus groups were wrong. It’s going to explode in his face.

America is still a religious nation, and most people are not so stupid as to think that this is really about contraception. It’s about religious liberty, everybody knows it, and nobody likes being told what to believe.

So here’s how the election stacks up:

Obama v Romney becomes “middle class v 1%.” Romney tries to make it “Democrat establishment v successful businessman,” but it won’t sell. Obama wins easily. (Oh, and Obama would run to Romney’s right, and would be believed. Seriously.)

Obama v Gingrich becomes “known, sane President v unstable loon,” while Gingrich tries to make it “big government v better ideas.” It’s a tossup. Gingrich would champion religious liberty correctly, but Obama wins this if Gingrich self-destructs, which is, unfortunately, frighteningly likely.

Obama v Santorum becomes “status quo v scary neanderthal,” but what the people will hear is “big, oppressive, anti-religious government v ordinary people just trying to live their lives.” THIS is where the Republican party wins big. Not only does Santorum win this match-up, he would have coattails. Santorum would play well among Northeast Catholics, in the Midwest Bible Belt, and even in black churches. Republican candidates should win across the board in this scenario.

Barack Obama has handed the Republican party the issue of individual, religious liberty on a gilt-edged platter. Rick Santorum is the correct candidate to take advantage of this.

We have an opportunity.

(A note to my readers about Newt Gingrich:

I have represented Gingrich consistently on this blog as the best thinker in the Republican party. I still believe that he is that. I think that any Republican administration would be stronger with Gingrich on the White House staff as a political strategist.

However, after watching him flail and toss out bizarre, speculative policy options and distasteful attacks as he was losing the Florida primary, I have had to face the fact that the man simply lacks the personal character to sustain a long campaign against the Democratic party machine, let alone run a country like the United States. I could be wrong about this, but I have decided to put my vote behind Rick Santorum as the most viable, “Not-Romney” conservative candidate left in the race.

To be frank, I’m relieved at the thought of not having to defend Gingrich’s mercurial character. Rick Santorum is an unambiguously good human being.)

04/19/2010 (1:17 pm)

American Anti-Christians Win Skirmish in War Against Christianity

prayerxA flap developed at the end of last week over President Obama choosing to cancel a White House ceremony surrounding this year’s annual National Day of Prayer, scheduled this year on May 6. Liberals and progressives noted that the President had to do it, you see, because a Wisconsin federal judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer violated the Establishment clause of the Constitution. They somehow missed the fact that the judge immediately stayed her own decision pending expected appeals, so the President was not required by the court to change anything. It hardly matters, though, because it is entirely consistent for this President to use progressive-generated smoke screens to do what he would have chosen to do himself were he not attempting to keep part of the populace fooled into thinking him a centrist Christian. He does not have to cancel the ceremony; he wants to.

Atheists and leftists continue to pretend that their war against Christianity is nothing but an attempt to maintain the neutrality demanded by the Constitution. One need look only at the results of their “neutrality” to determine that it is anything but. Coaches, fired for praying with their teams before games. Historic monuments all over America being threatened with removal. Graduating high school seniors instructed that they may not mention Jesus in their commencement speeches, and classes told they may not pray. Military chaplains told they cannot pray in the name of Jesus. History textbooks about the Pilgrims altered to avoid saying they gave thanks to their God. Kindergarteners told they cannot pray over their lunch. Teachers forced to pray in a closet for the sick children of co-workers, lest they be jailed for contempt of court. If this is neutrality, I want somebody to tell me what hostility looks like.

The very name, “Freedom From Religion Foundation,” tells the tale all too clearly. These people are not looking for neutrality, they want to scrub the public square clean of any mention of Christianity (their ardor burns much less brightly against Islam, for reasons I’ll address elsewhere). Their hostility is apparent on the face of things. They’ve been trying wedge cases for decades. They actively recruit students to sue their schools, and pursue their claims long after the recruited students have graduated. Whenever a religious parent wins the right to free exercise guaranteed by the Constitution (at enormous personal expense,) these haters of Christianity just look for another municipality in which to persecute yet another innocent citizen doing what they thought they had a protected right to do, hoping to find a friendly judge who will join them in scrubbing the public square of Christianity.

The anti-religionists found a reliable friend in Judge Barbara Crabb of the US District of Western Wisconsin, a Carter appointee. Last Thursday’s decision in Wisconsin, like all such decisions, is a masterpiece of judicial activism aimed at changing the Constitution into a progressive manifesto. Such decisions have to engage in semantic mayhem, since there is no honest way to conflate “establishment” with “endorsement” or “encouragement.” Those are different words in English, denoting very different acts, and all the government is enjoined from doing is “establishing.”

In every court decision that articulates some principle that says a government entity is not permitted to mention anything concerning religion (other than “it’s not welcome here”), the activism is the same: they all invent a right to feel welcome — a right that somehow applies only to the non-religious. Listen to how US District Judge Barbara Crabb frames the legal debate in her decision:

Decisions under the establishment clause are controversial and difficult in part because of the competing values at stake in each case. Religious freedom under the First Amendment contains two components, the right to practice one’s religion without undue interference under the free exercise clause and the right to be free from disfavor or disparagement on account of religion under the establishment clause. (p. 12)

According to Judge Crabb, there exists a Constitutional “right to be free from disfavor or disparagement.” She claims that this right exists in the First Amendment, but no such right gets articulated there. Where the First Amendment addresses religion, it simply identifies two powers that Congress lacks: the power to inhibit the free exercise of religion, and the power to establish a national religion. These are not in conflict, they are the same. Only one right inheres to citizens here: the right to worship as they choose. A declared National Day of Prayer that does not specify which type of prayer, does not inhibit this right in any way; on the contrary, it upholds the right openly.

Crabb cites at length from a legal textbook that engages in a bit of sociological pseudo-science (Eisengruber and Sager, Religious Freedom and the Constitution,) claiming that a declaration of a day of prayer creates “in” groups and “out” groups in the community. That people may feel such things is likely; but I’m looking in vain for how this becomes a legal principle in the absence of specific legislation. Crabb illustrates this “legal principle” with the following example:

Eisgruber and Sager ask the reader to imagine citizens who are erecting a large sign at the entrance to their town. One potential slogan is “Fineville: A Nuclear-Free Community”; another possibility is “Fineville: A Christian Community.” Although both signs could create heated disagreements among the citizens of the town, it is unlikely that the first sign would be construed as a message of disparagement by those who believe in nuclear power. In contrast, the second sign would almost certainly be viewed by non-Christians as a message that they are not welcome in the community or that they are simply a tolerated minority that does not have equal status to Christian residents of the town. Id. at 124-25.

Judge Crabb, who I infer lives in the Liberal Paradise of Wisconsin, obviously has never been on the receiving end of such political disparagement. As a conservative living in Massachusetts, I can assure her that the first sign is viewed as being precisely as disparaging as the second — and in fact, that the first sign is no less religious than the second.

More to the point, though, nobody who understands the US Constitution would consider that anything in it prevents a community from making such a declaration, if that’s the sense of the community. The Constitution protects me from sectarian laws demanding that I violate my conscience; it does not absolve me of my responsibility to stand courageously for what I believe in the face of a popular majority that believes otherwise. There is no Constitutional right to feel like I’m accepted.

Where the Constitution does not protect anyone against having to feel like they’re different, it does protect citizens against official government sanctions that have the effect of banning their religious practices. Judge Crabb, who goes to such lengths to protect those poor atheists from the horror of hearing that most people disagree with them, should be made to explain how she thinks the woman feels who faced contempt charges over her husband’s prayer at a private function, and who has to pray in a freaking closet. Do you think maybe she feels disparaged, a little?

Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant, earlier faced contempt charges after her husband read a prayer at a private banquet held at a Naval base to honor noninstructional school-district employees. The judge eventually found that Winkler’s husband’s prayer at a voluntary gathering outside of school did not violate any court order.

During her recent testimony, Winkler broke down on the witness stand as she told a story about how her coworker sought comfort from her after losing her 2-year-old child.

The two hid behind a closet door to pray, for fear they would be seen and held in contempt of the court order.

This woman is not made to feel like she’s an outsider; she’s made to feel like she’s an outlaw. I wonder if the Constitution has anything to say about that? In what way is this not “law … prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]?”

prayerclosetindeedJudge Crabb cites a number of decisions decrying a slippery slope that leads from “government endorsement of one religious group against another” to the outright suppression of the non-endorsed group. This is, in fact, the historical context in which the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses were conceived; think about the French Catholic suppression of the Huguenots in the 17th century, or the Anglican suppression of the Puritans. However, she goes out of her way to find those cases where, in order to further the secular war against Christianity, some judge or other has added the incorrect “or religion against non-religion,” as though to say something positive about religion generally is somehow the same as to favor one sect over another. They are not the same, as I’ll explain next; but even if they were, the Constitution prohibits the establishment of a national religion, not an expression of a favor toward religion generally.

The claim that the Constitution arbitrates an ongoing conflict between “religion” and “non-religion” is logically incoherent. There is no sect called “religion.” Religion describes the common practice of mankind to congregate in sects that hold different views of what are the central duties of humankind, and how they should live as a result. The attitude that posits an ongoing public struggle between “religion” and “non-religion” is nothing but the special pleading of a particular religious group, a group whose religion deifies the political and social aspirations of Mankind. “There is no god,” says this group, “but we have the power to make of ourselves whatever we choose.”

That such a statement is religious is evident simply by examining a sound definition of religion discussed elsewhere on this blog. To recap:

…“theism” is not a useful definition of religion: there are major, recognized world religions that contain both many gods (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) and no gods (Confucianism and Taoism.) A better definition of religion would be “a dogmatic set of cohesive ideas purporting to explain the nature and purpose of the universe, and from that to derive how Man should live.” By that robust definition, Humanism is clearly a religion, as are versions of Strong Atheism (the positive belief that there is no god or gods, as opposed to weak atheism, which just ignores the god question altogether) and many major philosophical schools, like Rationalism, Existentialism, Nihilism, etc.

The outcome of the Court’s ongoing attempts to prevent endorsements of religion generally is to establish this secular religion as the national religion. Judge Crabb, with her dishonest reading of the law, is doing precisely the thing prohibited by the US Constitution: she is making a national secular religion that can be legally enforced against other religions. This is why Christians are now forced to pray in book closets, and have to go to court to secure their right to pray over a meal.

David Limbaugh’s excellent book Persecution cites hundreds of cases in America from the past decade in which religious people have been forced to go to court to defend their right to practice their religion in public, a right clearly articulated in the First Amendment. The religious people usually win these cases, and that’s a good thing; but the point is, they should not have to spend their life savings defending their right over and over again. They have to because the secular religion is finding allies in progressive judges like Judge Crabb, who think “Congress cannot establish a national religion” means “Congress can’t say ‘religion generally is a good thing.'” Their goal is to make the Constitution say, by dishonest rendering of clear words, “The Courts can stamp out Christianity.”

The Wisconsin case offers us the irony that it is Barack Obama who is the defendant, and is defending the National Day of Prayer as constitutionally proper. It remains to be seen whether the Holder Justice Department will appeal Judge Crabb’s legal abortion of the Constitution. I suspect it will not. But I could be wrong. Stranger things have happened. This is still a very religious nation, and Barack Obama is still a politician. But make no mistake: there will be no White House celebration of the National Day of Prayer, because President Barack Obama does not want one.

03/24/2010 (1:21 pm)

A Nation of Philistines

First the music, then the explanation.

The performance is Up Above My Head, by Iris & Ofer Portugali’s Gospel Choir, an Israeli ensemble. It’s just shy of 6 minutes long. Frankly, I don’t think it’s quite as hot as Kirk Franklin’s version, on which this arrangement is based, but it’s hot enough, I love live performance, and I couldn’t find Franklin’s version as a live video recording. So… enjoy, and here’s a hint what this is about: play it really, really loud so your atheist neighbors have to hear it and grind their teeth.

Yesterday’s news contained a report from Monday’s US Supreme Court review of pending cases, announcing that the case of Nurre v. Whitehead had been refused certiorari, meaning that the Court decided that it will not hear the case. As a result, the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (yes, that 9th Circuit) will stand. The decision upholds the right of the Everett School District Superintendent, Carol Whitehead, to prohibit graduating seniors from performing music of their choice if that music has a religious theme. You can read the Circuit Court’s decision here.

Here’s what happened:

During the 2005 graduation ceremony of the Henry M. Jackson High School in Everett, WA, students performed a gospel piece entitled Up Above My Head, probably based on an arrangement by Kirk Franklin and God’s Property, a black gospel jazz/hip-hop band (they rock.) After the ceremony, several parents complained because of the religious content of the song, which says “Up above my head, I hear angels singing; there must be a God somewhere.” One parent wrote an angry letter to the editor of the Everett Herald, complaining that the piece was a violation of the Establishment clause. Various federal courts have been unanimous in declaring that this is not true, but that’s what the letter complained.

Roll the clock forward to graduation in 2006. The band director allowed seniors in the band to choose pieces for performance at graduation that would best display their ability. This year, among other pieces, senior Kathryn Nurre and her fellow band members chose Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria to be played by a woodwind quintet. The band director, recalling the flap over the gospel hymn the previous year, asked the Associate Superintendent for approval, and a representative from the Superintendent’s office emailed all principals in the district instructing that all musical numbers must be completely secular in nature. Nurre and her quintet reluctantly chose instead to play the fourth movement of Gustav Holst’s Second Suite in F for Military Band.

Yes, you read that correctly. A woodwind quintet was too religious for the school district. They were afraid to print the title of the piece in the program. (Ironically, the previous three years the band had performed On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss, a musical arrangement of the Evangelical hymn It Is Well With My Soul, without complaint from the community.)

Now, I don’t want to say that school administrators have no right to exercise oversight over students’ choices; they do, and it’s important. But I have to make a plea for sanity here.

The Establishment clause of the US Constitution was written in the wake of centuries of religious wars in Europe. The authors of the constitution regarded those wars as the consequence of the entanglement of religious institutions — church governing bodies — with civil magistrates. They reasoned that so long as church politics and civil politics were kept separate, the government would not be able to interfere with church practice, so that no particular religious body — say, the Archbishop of Canterbury representing the Church of England — could use the power of the state to persecute other churches.

Will somebody please explain to me how a high school woodwind quintet, playing a piece chosen primarily for displaying the skill of the artists, could possibly present a danger of a particular religious institution oppressing other religious groups by abusing the power of government? Where is the danger here? The Catholics are going to see “Ave Maria” printed in the program and go pass laws requiring thumb screws for Protestant heretics?

I am not a legal scholar, but in my humble opinion, the majority garbled the Lemon test(1), in that the effect of the decision very clearly constitutes an inhibition of religious expression; and furthermore, the court ignored clear precedent declaring that the State must not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint. US Supreme Court Associate Justice Sam Alito, in his dissent from the Supreme Court’s refusal of certiorari, observed that the school district’s decision was very clearly “viewpoint discrimination” focusing on the religious content of the piece, and thus prohibited by the 1st Amendment. (Read his dissent here: you’ll have to scroll down to page 22 to find the beginning of it.)

But leave that aside. What’s clear is that Establishment clause litigation has gone far afield from its intended outcome. In fact, it has become a tool of oppression; it is being used by progressives to perform Orwellian scrubbing of Western culture to excise any mention of the religion that formed the West. It’s deliberate, it’s anti-intellectual, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s winning.

The choice of Ave Maria was not even intended to be a religious statement, according to the plaintiff; she just liked how the piece highlighted her skills. But the objection was very definitely a religious statement, and was intended to be. The effect of the decision was to make the complaints of a few, anti-religious bigots, who hate the fact that they have to hear God mentioned in the music of the culture, the law of the land.

Keeping high school music completely secular eviscerates Western music. According to testimony in the case Doe v. Duncanville Ind. Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 402, 407 (5th Cir. 1995,) somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of all serious choral music in the West contains religious themes, and probably close to half of all Western music likewise recalls religious themes. In the medieval, baroque, and classical periods, it was the Church that sponsored most of the music. Judge Miland Smith, dissenting in part in Nurre’s case, makes this point in his dissent. He adds this:

I am concerned that, if the majority’s reasoning on this issue becomes widely adopted, the practical effect will be for public school administrators to chill—or even kill—musical and artistic presentations by their students in school-sponsored limited public fora where those presentations contain any trace of religious inspiration, for fear of criticism by a member of the public, however extreme that person’s views may be.

The First Amendment neither requires nor condones such a result. The taking of such unnecessary measures by school administrators will only foster the increasingly sterile and hypersensitive way in which students may express themselves in such fora, and hasten the retrogression of our young into a nation of Philistines, who have little or no understanding of our civic and cultural heritage.

Alito, in his dissent, feared the same retrogression. Let’s not be naive; that is precisely the effect the complaining parents were hoping to have. They don’t mind a nation of Philistines, so long as they never have to hear any reference to God. In their view, the Constitution guarantees them that they will never have to hear an opinion that they despise. And they call themselves “open-minded.”

The Establishment clause is a good idea. It works to prevent sectarian oppression. So does the Free Exercise clause, which is the second half of that sentence from the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

I recall here the argument presented by Elisha Williams in The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants, the 1744 pamphlet I reported on a year ago in my Theological Foundations of a Just Rebellion series. The civil magistrate has neither right nor power to dictate matters of religious conscience to the individual; preventing him from trying protects believers from government intrusions on their liberty, intrusions like the government telling Kathryn Nurre that the music she chooses to play is too religious.

I’m beginning to see some of the major issues of the day as “Reset Button” issues — issues where we need to start over from scratch with a new Constitution and a clear understanding of the purpose of each clause therein. This is one of those issues. If bigots can intimidate enough people into neutering Western music on the mere threat of a specious 1st Amendment challenge, one that’s already been decided in favor of religious expression half a dozen times, and they get the protection of a misinformed court, then we need new guards to protect our liberties. This is one of the bases for pursuing partition of the nation. so we can re-establish proper boundaries on government intrusion. There is no libertarian cause that requires quashing good music just because the composer adored Jesus’ mom.


(1) The Lemon test refers to the case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). The test, usually applied to instances of the government favoring a religious expression, requires three criteria: the conduct must (a) have a secular purpose, (b) not have as its principal or primary effect the advancement or inhibition of religion, and (c) not foster an excessive governmental entanglement with religion. In the Nurre case, the Lemon test was applied to the school district’s decision to stop seniors from choosing music with a religious theme — incorrectly, in my view, because its principle effect is to inhibit religion.

11/11/2009 (2:55 pm)

Not Brothers, Not Devils

taliban-womenIn the last 5 days it has become known that the Ft. Hood shooter was a Muslim, was in contact with al Qaeda, attended a mosque known for radical connections, posted on the Internet in favor of suicide bombers, and presented a slide show to the Army explaining the potentially lethal conflict Muslim American soldiers face when being deployed to Muslim nations. It is no longer possible to pretend that the Ft. Hood shooting incident does not plausibly represent a military clash between the United States and radical Islam, and still remain intellectually honest. There are complications in the affair, but that aspect has become clear.

Janet Napolitano, President Obama’s irresponsible choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, considered that her most urgent response to the attack on Ft. Hood was to caution the nation against an anti-Muslim backlash. Dr. Phil expressed outrage when a guest, a representative of JAG (Judge Advocate General), the Army’s legal corps, denounced the doctor’s excuse-making as psychobabble and named Islamic Jihad as at least part of the attacker’s motives. The Army’s Chief of Staff, General Casey, refused to allow categorical comments about Islam, and declared that as horrific as the casualties were at Ft. Hood, for “diversity” to become a casualty would be far worse. President Obama stated the opposite of the truth in his speech yesterday at Ft. Hood:

It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice – in this world, and the next.

That no just and loving God would look upon this with favor, I grant. That no faith justifies these murderous acts, is simply wrong. Islam justifies these acts, and Muslim activists like Hasan expect reward, not punishment, having been taught from childhood that martyrdom in Jihad is a sure path to earning Allah’s favor.

Tawfik Hamid, a Muslim dissident intellectual who is attempting to produce a robust theology of peace within Islam, has explained at length that the violence that attends Islam is not an aberrantion, but rather represents the mainstream. Hamid himself claims to have been engaged in radical Jihad with an organization called Jamaah Islamiyah. In a well-publicized editorial in the Wall Street Journal back in April of 2007, Hamid explained:

…there is much that is clearly wrong with the Islamic world. Women are stoned to death and undergo clitorectomies. Gays hang from the gallows under the approving eyes of the proponents of Shariah, the legal code of Islam. Sunni and Shia massacre each other daily in Iraq. Palestinian mothers teach 3-year-old boys and girls the ideal of martyrdom. One would expect the orthodox Islamic establishment to evade or dismiss these complaints, but less happily, the non-Muslim priests of enlightenment in the West have come, actively and passively, to the Islamists’ defense.

These “progressives” frequently cite the need to examine “root causes.” In this they are correct: Terrorism is only the manifestation of a disease and not the disease itself. But the root-causes are quite different from what they think. As a former member of Jemaah Islamiya, a group led by al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, I know firsthand that the inhumane teaching in Islamist ideology can transform a young, benevolent mind into that of a terrorist. Without confronting the ideological roots of radical Islam it will be impossible to combat it. While there are many ideological “rootlets” of Islamism, the main tap root has a name–Salafism, or Salafi Islam, a violent, ultra-conservative version of the religion.

It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so. It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the “end of days.” The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong.

The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Shariah. Unlike Salafism, more liberal branches of Islam, such as Sufism, typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts.

It is not the case that every Muslim intends violence toward non-Muslims. It is, however, the case that wherever Islam prospers, violence and domination follows. TheReligionOfPeace.com has maintained a comprehensive list of Muslim violence around the world for several years now; similar lists documenting violence in the name of other religions would not need anywhere near the bandwidth. More to the point, the vast majority of Muslims do not object to these practices, but tolerate them in silence. Rather than view such acts as the errors of extremists, it appears that they view them as the obedience of the purest among them. Tawfik Hamid recommends,

Muslims who do not vocally oppose brutal Shariah decrees should not be considered “moderates.”

America has a powerful tradition of religious liberty. This is as opposed to religious toleration, a distinction I explained a few weeks ago in a post called “Toleration and the Crown.” As conceived by our nation’s founders, the government simply has no right whatsoever to judge religious organizations, nor to speak into religious disputes. Those rights belong to the people and have never been ceded to the government. Thus, it cannot be the government’s task to single out a religion and declare, “This religion is not welcome here.”

Liberal America occasionally resorts to this fact to justify squeezing its eyes shut against the inherent danger of permitting Muslims to practice here in America as citizens of other religions have been permitted. This is a pretense. It is not just that liberals have showed contempt for the rights of Christian Americans to practice Christianity openly, finding imaginary Constitutional principles to prevent Christians from even speaking of their Christianity while ignoring those same “principles” when considering Muslims or Jews. It’s that they seem ideologically incapable even to acknowledge the danger of welcoming large sects intent on domination and subjugation. They warn against “anti-Muslim sentiment,” assiduously hunt for alternative motives, and ignore the religious justification for violent acts, rather than even consider the possibility that an enemy conceivably intent on conquest may have planted millions of loyal soldiers among us.

madrassa-child_sm1Nor is the blindness limited to liberal America, although progressive dogma is directly to blame. George W. Bush falsely declared Islam to be “a religion of peace,” rather than publicly acknowledge that Islam, after some 600 years of dormancy, is again threatening the nominally Christian West (I should say, the largely post-Christian West.) The Pentagon and the FBI have, in this incident, likewise shown themselves incompetent to identify, pursue, and isolate this self-proclaimed danger to America’s forces. To President Bush’s credit, he took appropriate action to prevent incidents like the Ft. Hood massacre from occurring in American territory; but the military is still failing to address the internal threat directly. They have been cowed into incoherence and incompetence by threats of progressive mob anger; they have become eunuchs to King Political Correctness.

Where religious liberty establishes a Constitutional and historical basis for embracing those who are different, certain religious groups have faced stiff opposition from Americans, and sometimes from American government. Adherents to the Latter-Day Saints church fled persecution in America proper and attempted to establish a theo-democratic state, albeit still connected to the United States, in a huge western territory they called “Deseret,” comprised of most of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, and about half of California. Their establishment of ecclesiastical courts parallel to the US Federal court system calls to mind attempts to establish Sharia in mostly-Muslim enclaves in US cities. President Buchanan dispatched several thousand troops to remove Utah’s Governor Brigham Young in 1857 and replace him with a non-LDS appointee, after which the US was fortunate to avoid outright war in the Mormon territories. A Republican majority in Congress passed an anti-bigamy law in 1862 with the LDS church clearly in mind (polygamy was arguably as large a moral issue as slavery to the 1860s Republicans), but President Lincoln agreed not to enforce it against the Mormons in what some regard as a bribe to keep them out of the Civil War.

Catholics were also distrusted in America for many years. A common objection to John F. Kennedy’s presidential bid in 1960 was the concern that as a Catholic, he held greater loyalty to Rome than to Washington. That turned out to be among the least of the dangers posed by Kennedy’s presidency, and today few Americans would think to question the loyalty of Catholic Americans. But “papism” was a deep concern among American Protestants from before the American revolution, and continued in some form until the 1960s.

However, even the most frenetic and overwrought denunciations of Catholics never envisioned that they would take military action to conquer non-Catholic America, and the Mormons appeared mostly to want to be left alone. Islam is different. They are not coming to America to avoid persecution — Muslims are nearly always persecutors, not persecuted. Nor are they coming to establish their own, separate enclaves to live peaceably but separately. The core mission of Islam is evangelism and eventual domination; and they seem uncomfortably willing to engage in violence to achieve those ends. While Christianity expresses similar sentiments about evangelism, it aims to achieve influence by peaceful persuasion, not by conquest. The Crusades are 800 years past, and even those were attempts to free conquered lands from Islam, not specifically attempts to extend Christianity by conquest. Modern Muslims seem pleased to be conquering Europe without violence, but I see no indication that they’re unwilling to consider violence.

Is it correct to say that Muslims intend conquest by violence in America? It’s difficult to say. They certainly intend conquest, although for now Muslims seem content to fit into their communities. They seem peaceful on the average. Yet, the Ft. Hood incident is not isolated; similar plots have been foiled at Ft. Dix and a National Guard base in Newburgh, NY., and a recruiting station in Little Rock, AR was shot up just this year — and that’s just the incidents targeting the US military. As Victor Davis Hanson pointed out last Friday, there seems to be a minority pocket of Muslims who

…channel generic Islamist fantasies, so that we can assume that either formal terrorist plots or individual acts of murder will more or less occur here every three to six months.

I doubt that here in America we will see organized, Muslim militia like those led by Moqtada al Sadr in Iraq anytime soon, but we are already seeing repeated, isolated instances of Muslim rage directed against both military and civilian targets in America. It must, sadly, become a matter of policy for the US to acknowledge this legacy of violence that follows the emigration of Muslims, and to address it sensibly.

Surprisingly, one of the more sensible suggestions came from the Ft. Hood shooter himself, Nidal Hasan. In a presentation to US Army physicians in June 2007, Hasan observed the inherent conflict felt by Muslim soldiers when they’re dispatched to Muslim countries — some apparently fear that the US Army intends to “rape their women and kill their children,” and feel morally compelled to defend Islam rather than obey their Army orders. Hasan counseled an option for “conscientious objector” status for Muslim soldiers who receive orders to deploy to war zones in Muslim countries. Such an option seems a reasonable concession to the consciences of Muslims, and may even have prevented the Ft. Hood incident, though we cannot say for sure.

However, such a sensible recognition of conscience would not address the more fundamental conflict between Islamic intent and a free republic like the US. Tawfik Hamid again:

Progressives need to realize that radical Islam is based on an antiliberal system. They need to awaken to the inhumane policies and practices of Islamists around the world. They need to realize that Islamism spells the death of liberal values. And they must not take for granted the respect for human rights and dignity that we experience in America, and indeed, the West, today.

Well-meaning interfaith dialogues with Muslims have largely been fruitless. Participants must demand–but so far haven’t–that Muslim organizations and scholars specifically and unambiguously denounce violent Salafi components in their mosques and in the media.

American libertarian values and Islamic law are fundamentally at odds. The mainstream of Muslim thought recognizes this and favors conquering America, overruling liberty, and imposing Sharia. The most fervent of Muslims seem actually to be capable of attempting this by violence. Rather than being marginalized like the few, violent extremist Christian cults, they appear to have the silent approval of the mainstream. This could change, if enough Muslim clerics articulated and taught a believable Muslim theology of peace, and publicly denounced Salafi violence. Until that happens, though, blithe toleration of Muslim immigration is suicide.

Though the US government lacks legal authority to interfere in Muslim matters within the US, it does possess the legal power to protect the peace and defend American borders. Thus, for the US government to address the threat posed by mainstream Islam, America needs deliberately to halt the immigration of Muslims into America until Islam demonstrates a shift in the direction of peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. Meanwhile, the American military needs to recognize the inherent danger posed by Muslim soldiers in military units being sent to Muslim nations, and protect itself from further violence.

Any action along these lines must recognize the fundamental necessity that the government protect the religious liberty of citizens. I am calling for appropriate defense of the public peace, which is a legitimate governmental function, but it cannot be permitted to devolve into anti-religious policy. Even though the Salafis seem to have the approval of the Muslim mainstream, we as a nation must welcome peaceful expressions of Islamic faith, and do everything in our power to protect the civil liberties of those Muslims who live among us. Closing our borders to potential enemies is sensible policy, but we must give Muslims an option of embracing peaceful coexistence without abandoning Islam.

This will not happen before the US as a nation is willing to acknowledge the truth about Islam. Only by confronting the real conflict between Islam and the West can Muslims be led to embrace a less violent theology.

I highly recommend that readers review the writings of Tawfik Hamid, who is actively pursuing just such a shift in Islamic theology.

05/02/2009 (2:26 pm)

Religion and Public Life — A "Must Read"

I’ve lifted the following essay in its entirety from the National Review Institute’s “Must Read” page. It’s actually a talk delivered by William F. one of the Buckley brothers in New York City in 2006, probably James (the NRI site does not say which, but as a commenter pointed out, James is the one of the two who has served in all three branches of government, as the author of this piece claims to have done.) Buckley addresses in his typical clear-thinking fashion the modern illusion that religious faith in an office-holder somehow interferes with his ability to serve in public office under the Constitution. Buckley correctly observes that this is a modern invention that not one of the Constitution’s signers would have given a second thought. There is absolutely no conflict between religious faith and public office.

Take it away, Mr. Buckley.

I would like to address some odd notions that have been floating around in recent times regarding religion and public service. I cite, as one example, the statement made a few years ago by then-Governor Douglas Wilder of Virginia on hearing that my then-colleague, Clarence Thomas, had been nominated for the Supreme Court. Governor Wilder announced that he opposed the nomination because Judge Thomas was a Catholic, and Catholics opposed abortion. It is hard to pack, into a single sentence, so large a misunderstanding of the roles of both religion and the judiciary under the Constitution.

notafraidBy way of full disclosure, I should state that I am a Catholic who takes his religion seriously. I am also an American who, over the past thirty-odd years, has been privileged to serve in all three branches of our federal government. As might be expected, I have developed my own views concerning my responsibilities and obligations with respect to each. So today I propose to touch on those responsibilities, with particular emphasis on those of a judge because the guerilla warfare in recent years over judicial appointments reflects so distorted a view of the role of the judiciary.

As we are all aware, the Constitution assigns the respective duties of the three branches of our federal government, and its system of checks and balances was designed to keep the members of each of these branches within their proper bounds. But few seem to appreciate that the Constitution contains an additional safeguard. It is to be found in the first part of the third clause of Article VI, which reads as follows:

The Senators and Representatives … and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.

The balance of that clause provides that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

It should be noted that this clause is the only provision of the original Constitution that applies to all three branches of government; the only one that applies to state as well as federal officials. So it should be obvious that the Founders intended the oath to serve more than a ceremonial purpose. They were launching an extraordinary experiment in governance, and they knew that it could succeed only if every public officer in their fledgling nation were to bind himself to make it work. To this end, they consciously enlisted the power of religion to ensure fidelity to the Constitution. James Madison, in fact, would comment on the seeming paradox that such a requirement should appear in the same clause as the provision abolishing religious qualifications for office. As he wrote in October of 1787, “Is not a religious test … involved in the oath itself?”

It doesn’t speak well of our age that we must remind ourselves that in taking an oath, we call on God to bear witness to the promises we make with the implicit expectation that He will hold us accountable for the manner in which we live up to them. This understanding of the meaning of an oath is as ancient as our civilization. Edward Gibbon made the point in a wry passage on the role of religion in the Roman Empire:

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. … The magistrates could not be actuated by a blind, though honest bigotry, since the magistrates were themselves philosophers. … [But t]hey knew and valued the advantages of religion, as it is connected with civil government. … [A]nd they respected as the firmest bond of society, the useful persuasion that, either in this or in a future life, the crime of perjury is most assuredly punished by the avenging gods.

Like the Roman magistrates, the Founders of the American Republic took full advantage of this “useful persuasion” to further the interests of their new nation; but unlike those magistrates, they were believers in both the religious nature of an oath and its implications. In his Farewell Address, George Washington would ask, “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths ….?” And in an opinion quoting the judicial oath of office, Justice Samuel Chase would write, “No position can be more clear than that all the federal judges are bound by the solemn obligation of religion, to regulate their decisions agreeably with the Constitution of the United States.”

The second provision of clause 3, the one forbidding religious qualifications for public office, did not banish religion from public life; rather, it protected freedom of conscience and ensured that government would be open to persons, and therefore to influences, of every faith and of none. The Founders were not afraid of religion. To the contrary, they thought it essential to the success of their great experiment. A common theme that ran through their writings was that the Republic’s survival, and the liberties it was intended to protect, ultimately depended on the morality of its citizens as formed and reinforced by their religious beliefs. John Adams asserted that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”; and Washington warned that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

indispensibleI think it useful, at this point, to note that the idea that religion is a purely private matter is of recent vintage. For most of our history, the First Amendment’s provision prohibiting the “establishment of religion” was understood to do no more than forbid the federal government’s preferential treatment of a particular faith. But while the First Amendment’s purpose was to protect religion and the freedom of conscience from governmental interference, as Thomas Cooley noted in his 1871 treatise on Con­sti­tu­tional Limitations, the Framers considered it entirely appropriate for government “to foster religious worship and religious instruction, as conservators of the public morals and values, if not indispensable, assistants to the preservation of the public order.” As that perceptive observer of the American scene, Alexis de Tocqueville, put it, “while the law allows the American people to do everything, there are things which religion prevents them from imagining and forbids them to dare.”

And so it is not surprising that the Congress that adopted the First Amendment also reenacted the provision of the Northwest Ordinance which declares that “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged;” and early Congresses proceeded to make grants of land to serve religious purposes and to fund sectarian education among the Indians.

In sum, as understood by those who wrote it, the First Amendment did not forbid the government from being biased in favor of religion as such so long as it championed none. Nor did it require that the state be insulated from religious principles and influences. The men at Philadelphia who outlawed religious tests for public service surely had the practical common sense to know, if some contemporary ideologues do not, that in those roles in which public servants are expected to bring their personal judgments to bear, the views of religious individuals will inevitably reflect their religious beliefs. It is, quite simply, fatuous to suppose that a public official can check the religious components of his convictions at the door before entering the council chambers of government.

It follows, then, that under our constitutional arrangements, a President and members of Congress of whatever faith need never apologize for the fact that their recommendations or votes may reflect their religious beliefs. As members of the elected branches of government, they are expected to bring their best judgments to bear in the formulation of public policy. Inevitably, that policy will reflect the values and moral judgments of its makers – values and judgments that are presumably known to those who elect them.

Those who cry that one should not “legislate” morals or “impose” one’s own morality on others through the law, are ignorant of both history and the law. Whatever else might be said about such arguments, this much, I think, is clear: It would have struck previous generations of Americans as only slightly less than absurd to say that morality cannot or should not be legislated. Americans have always debated, and will, I hope, continue to debate the propriety or the prudence of incorporating a particular moral proposition into the law; but to say that morality and law do not or should not mix flies in the face of everything we know about American history – or, for that matter, about the history of every system of law since at least the Code of Hammurabi. In the 1860s we fought the bloodiest war of our history and then amended our Constitution in order to impose Northern notions of morality on the slave owners of the South.

Nor have we, in this “enlightened” age, ceased to legislate morality. How, for example, are we to describe the civil rights laws of the past generation except as the codification of a moral imperative? And what about our various social welfare laws? Are they not expressions of a corporate moral responsibility for the old, the sick, and the poor among us?

The role of federal judges, however, is of a significantly different kind. As nonelected officials, they can claim no mandate to reconstruct public policy. Rather, their constitutional duties are exclusively judicial. It is their job to give force and effect to the law, whether they agree with it or not; and that, I assure you, is responsibility enough.

When I took my oath of office as a federal judge, I solemnly swore that I would “administer justice … according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.” The authority that was vested in me on taking that oath was derived exclusively from the Constitution. Thus the justice I was sworn to administer was not justice as I might see it in a particular case, but justice as it is defined by the Constitution and laws and legal traditions of our country. And if I consciously deviated from that body of law to do justice as I saw it, I would have violated my oath of office and undermined the safeguards embodied in the Separation of Powers. Should I have been asked to hear a case in which the application of the law might result in my material complicity in what I believed to be an immoral act, I would have had to examine my conscience and, if it so dictated, recuse myself. What I might not do was bend the law to suit my conscience.

A judge, of course, is no more relieved of moral responsibility for his work than anyone else in either private or public life. The duty of a judge, however, is to be measured by the requirements of his office. A person cannot act as the impartial arbiter of the law unless he is willing to apply it. That, in part, is what is meant by judicial temperament — the ability to subordinate personal feelings and beliefs to the constitutional duties assumed — what Robert Bork has described as the principled jurist’s “continuing self-conscious renunciation of power.”

dismayingtendencyUnfortunately, over the years judges have developed diverging views as to the standards to be applied in interpreting the Constitution. One school, which is exemplified by Justice Antonin Scalia’s focus on original meaning, maintains, essentially, that in identifying and applying the Constitution’s enduring principles, a judge is bound by the meaning of its text as illumi­nated by contemporaneous usage and tradition; that is to say, its mean­ing as understood by those who ratified it.

The second school, as epitomized by the late Justice William Brennan, views the Constitution as a “living” document that each generation of jurists is at liberty to adapt to the exigencies of the times. Thus, as Justice Brennan expressed it in an address at Georgetown University in 1985, “The genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs.” Needless to say, such a view of the Constitution will allow a jurist to make rather breathtaking departures from the original understanding of what the Constitution requires. Justice Brennan also said that “[t]he act of interpretation must be undertaken with full consciousness that it is, in a very real sense, the community’s interpretation that is sought.” With respect, that statement seems to me to beg the question of an unelected judge’s competence to speak for the community at large.

I recognize that a body of respected thought supports the premise behind Justice Brennan’s remark, namely, that its nuts and bolts provisions aside, the Constitution is essentially a depository of principles that jurists are entitled to update from time to time as conditions change. I believe, however, that a reliance on original meaning in constitutional interpretation is not only sounder in principle, but better designed to narrow the occasions for the ultimate judicial sin: the abuse of power. Over recent decades, the Brennan school has held the edge in a series of sensitive cases that have had a profound effect on the social and political life of this country.

Because millions of Americans see some of the Court’s newly defined rights as threats to their most deeply held values, because its decisions have overturned laws and practices that date back to the earliest days of the Republic, it is hardly surprising that great numbers of our citizens have come to view the Court as an active player, perhaps the major player, in the ongoing culture wars as it pursues goals that they believe to be beyond its authority.

Three particularly sensitive lines of cases come to mind; namely, those in which, by narrow margins, the Supreme Court has virtually banished religion from public life, extended First Amendment protection to the most explicit pornography, and proclaimed what amounts to an unrestricted right to abortion. When, in 1957, the Court outlawed the recitation of voluntary non-denominational prayers in public schools, it ended a practice that had been part of the American experience since the outset of public education and which an overwhelming majority of American parents wished to have continued; and the net effect of its subsequent Establishment Clause decisions has been to exclude religion from almost every aspect of public life and to encourage the belief that religion is irrelevant to the public welfare. More than that, in Yale professor Stephen Carter’s words, it has led to “a discomfort and a disdain for religion in our public life that sometimes curdles into intolerance.”

Recent interpretations of the Speech Clause have had an equally dramatic impact on our society and culture. For better or worse, the Court’s expansion of protected speech to include pornography has abolished any meaningful limitations on its commercial distribution. The Court did hold that obscenity is not protected by the First Amend­ment, and it defined as obscene any work that, in the view of “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, [has a] dominant theme [that] . . . taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest.” But such has been the erosion of community standards since the Court opened the floodgates for pornography that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently had to rule that the notorious film “Deep Throat,” which contains wall-to-wall depictions of sexual intercourse and perversions, was not obscene because it was not patently offensive to jaded New York City audiences. Gresham’s law, it seems, is as applicable to culture as it is to currency.

And then there is Roe v. Wade. In discovering a right to abortion for any reason and, as a practical matter, at any time, the Court overturned the laws of all fifty states and unleashed the most divisive political issue since Dred Scott, one that remains a major factor in American politics more than thirty years after the decision was announced.

To appreciate the full effect of these lines of cases, it is important to understand the social consequences that can flow from a particular Supreme Court ruling. There is a fundamental difference between a practice that society condemns and may or may not choose to forbid and one that the Court has declared to be constitutionally protected. The latter tips the psychological as well as the legal balance in favor of a newly defined right because that which society may not forbid acquires the presump­tion of moral legitimacy, for how can one condemn the exercise of a constitutional right?

It is because of the pivotal role the Supreme Court has come to play in the ongoing culture wars that Senate judicial confirmation hearings have become the scenes of such destructive acrimony. And the ferocity of the attacks by such organizations as People for the American Way on a man of John Roberts’ impeccable qualifications confirms that the acolytes of today’s secular religions can be as driven as any fighting in the name of the Lord.

Qualitatively, in fact, I can see little to distinguish radical evangelicals from, say, the radical feminists who have spearheaded so many of the attacks on recent judicial nominees. Each group has political axes to grind, each is profoundly convinced that reason and virtue are on its side, each has become sophisticated in the arts of political warfare, each has important constituencies in both the electorate at large and in Congress, and each has an equal right to pursue its goals in the political marketplace. What does distinguish the evangelicals is that the values they champion have fallen into disrepute with both the establishment media and Atlantic and Pacific Coast elites even though they seek no more than to protect institutions and standards that were almost universally accepted as recently as a generation ago. Call it a question of style, if you will.

Whatever its cause, the undeniable fact is that we have witnessed an astonishing sea change in American practices and attitudes over the past forty years or so. Such words as “sin” and “honor” and “virtue” sound quaint as we discard moral precepts and codes of behavior that had been rooted in our society since the founding of the Republic. Moreover, we have shown a dismaying tendency to recast God in Man’s image. If enough people engage in conduct that society once condemned, we rewrite the rule book and assume that God, as a good democrat, will go along.

As a result, since the 1960s, we have witnessed an erosion of moral standards and self-discipline that have given us among the civilized world’s highest incidences of crime, abortion, pornography, drug abuse, and illegitimacy, as well as some corporate scandals of Olympian proportions. To cite just one striking statistic, in 1960, one out of twenty births in the United States was illegitimate; today, the figure is one out of three; and over the same period, we have also managed to create what Professor Carter has called a “culture of disbelief.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that there should have been a reaction to this culture of disbelief and to the loss of moral moorings that many attribute to it. That reaction is embodied in the so-called “religious right”, which consists of a loose coalition of men and women of all faiths who, taking religion and their civic responsibilities to heart, have decided to become politically engaged. And they are not alone in their concerns. According to the exit polls conducted on behalf of the Los Angeles Times, in each of the last three elections, the issue of moral and ethical values was uppermost in the voters’ minds. In 2004, that issue outweighed concerns over the economy, homeland security, and Iraq by substantial margins.

As one would expect in a functioning democracy, this phenomenon has helped frame the issues for public debate, and it has had its impact on both the choice of political candidates and their election to office. The caterwauling of the establishment media notwithstanding, however, I can see nothing more sinister in the activities of the religious right than an attempt to elect officials who share their convictions on certain matters of public policy. That is their right, and it does not offend the Constitution that their views should fail to accord with those of the New York Times or the Washington Post.

The Constitution is quite capable of protecting our liberties so long as those in office feel bound by its terms. For this reason, it seems to me that the American people have little to fear from public servants who take their religion seriously. A healthy concern for the Last Judgment, after all, was precisely what the Founders were banking on when they wrote the third clause of Article VI into our Constitution.

06/26/2008 (7:08 am)

Hating Evangelicals in the Public Square

No sooner do I take on the academic distaste for Evangelicals than the same topic pops up in the political square. How convenient.

Yesterday a small brouhaha erupted when James Dobson, radio host of Focus on the Family, did a little critique of a speech by Barack Obama about religion in the public square. The speech was an old one; it had been delivered in June of 2006, as the keynote address to a religious conference called “Call to Renewal,” put on by the politically progressive religious group Sojourners.

Here’s an uncharacteristically fair report on the discussion from Jake Tapper of ABC News:

You can hear Dobson’s entire critique, and Obama’s speech in its entirety, here at CitizenLink.com, FOTF’s political action blog. Dobson’s radio portion is the small bar just above Obama’s picture. You have to sit through Dobson’s tribute to Tim Russert, but that’s actually very nice.

Now, I’ve never thought Dr. James Dobson, child psychologist, was particularly cogent on political subjects, and I don’t think he makes his case correctly on this one. (His books on child-rearing are another matter; I used them, and they were outstanding.) However, he was right to be incensed by Obama’s faux libertarianism, and whether he makes his point well or not, he’s on the side of the angels this time.

The speech was standard Obama fare, solidly Progressive while couched in the language of conciliation. Obama fancies himself a negotiator and reconciliation counselor, and often offers advice for keeping the conversation civil, but his terms usually favor the left. It’s a couple of those moments that agitated Dr. Dobson, enough to make him respond 2 years after the fact.

Objectionable point number 1:

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.

There’s a lot for an Evangelical to get agitated about here, but I’ll focus on just one.

For a conciliator, Obama makes a huge goof by comparing Dobson with the Reverend Al Sharpton. This would be like saying to a Democrat, in the context of explaining why we don’t have political classes in public schools, “Whose politics should we teach? Yours, or David Duke’s?” The implication, of course, would be that the Democrat represents on the left what David Duke represents on the right. Do you suppose the Daily Kos Kids might have a few choice words about that comparison?

Nobody objects to Al Sharpton because of his religion; we don’t even know what his theology is, nor do we care. Al Sharpton is a professional racist. He runs a protection racket; he routinely hustles money out of legitimate businesses by threatening them with racial demonstrations if they don’t contribute to his organization. He deliberately inflames tense situations by invoking race in order to garner attention for himself. Some of his attention games have resulted in riots, and in innocent people being killed; others, in people having to fight in court and the public square for their liberty. You may disagree with Dr. Dobson’s politics, but the man has never in his entire life engaged in the sort of sleazy, self-aggrandizing demagoguery for which Sharpton is known. The comparison is insulting and inappropriate.

Other avenues Dobson approaches here are valid as well: Obama’s application of Bible verses are distorted horribly, and then he rubs them in with “folks haven’t been reading their bibles.” Obama invokes multiculturalism inaccurately; a huge majority of citizens in the US self-identify as Christian, whereas no other group Obama mentions even represents double digits in the American population, except for non-believers.

My own take is that Obama’s point illustrates why there should be no public schools. If parents could send their children to the sectarian school of their choice, every parent would be satisfied with the religious content, every right would be protected, and every point of view adequately represented. It’s the act of the public providing universal schooling that creates the conflict in educational content, not the fact of sectarian opinions. I personally favor a completely private system, with public funding only for the very poorest students, but given the reality of near-universal public funding, I favor vouchered education that includes sectarian choices.

Obama’s offending comments, take 2:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

I have to admit that this is one topic on which I’m apt to throw my equanimity to the winds and simply explode. You want to hear me get steamed? Suggest that democracy requires that I stifle my religious opinions, like Obama does here.

Obama simply does not understand the American political system. And this putz wants to be President.

If Obama were simply offering avuncular wisdom, it would be fine: “You know, if you want to have more impact on people who disagree with you, you’ll do better if you take this approach.” Yes, for a religious person to have a wider appeal, this is sensible advice.

That’s not how it’s phrased, though, and it’s not what’s being said. Obama says democracy depends on such an approach. If Obama was simply giving advice, the consequence of not following it would be just “You’ll not be heard.” By contrast to that, he seems to be saying that the failure to put religious points in secular terms somehow damages the body politic — that it hurts us all. The reason he’s rapproaching Dobson thus is not that Dobson is hurting himself and not being heard; quite the contrary. Obama knows Dobson is being heard, by lots of people, and he wishes he wasn’t. His point is just another attempt by a leftist to get his opponent to shut up.

No agent can be prevented from engaging legally in free, political advocacy on the basis of the terms of that advocacy. Frank religious talk is protected, and, contrary to ridiculous readings of the establishment clause, there is not a single word of the Constitution that prohibits citizens from advocating their favored policies in the starkest religious terms possible (in fact, not a single word of the Constitution prohibits any citizen from doing anything; the Constitution limits the government, not the people).

I, personally, have no problem couching my own political points of view in secular terms, but let me be clear: I don’t do it because democracy demands it, I do it because I think it’s more effective. If Evangelicals want to advocate some policies publicly by saying “We believe it because it’s biblical,” that is their right, and no defender of liberty has any basis for silencing them. If Dobson cared to form policy on the basis of casting lots at midnight and barking at the moon during the vernal equinox at the center of Stonehenge, and then advocated it publicly on that basis, that is his right. If he can garner enough votes to pass his measure stated in those terms, he wins — as he should. There is no obligation to avoid religious language in political advocacy, none whatsoever. Religious people have every bit as much right to participate in the political process as anybody else, using any terms they choose, and any attempt to make them tone down their religious talk is tyranny, pure and simple.

Obama’s response, noted in the ABC News clip at the top of this post, was typical: “He must have misunderstood, or he’s just trying to score political points.” Jim Wallis of Sojourners takes a similar swipe at Dobson, calling his objection disingenuous. Wallis is wrong; Dobson is not being disingenuous, he’s heard this same attempt to get him to shut up thousands of times before, so he recognizes it when he hears it. He responded honestly to precisely what Obama meant. Obama’s point is the point of tyrants; Dobson correctly defends his own liberty, with my wholehearted approval.