Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

There's no God in them thar Decklahrayshun...

Matthew Franck, writing in National Review Online's Bench Memos today, talking about David Souter's comments yesterday regarding the Kentucky Ten Commandments case:
(Souter) went on to profess himself "puzzled" by the county's statement that the influence of the Ten Commandments may be "clearly seen" in the Declaration of Independence (also a part of the exhibit). What? What? There's no God in that there Declaration, he opined: "the Commandments are sanctioned as divine imperatives, while the Declaration of Independence holds that the authority of government to enforce the law derives 'from the consent of the governed.' "

Who sabotaged Justice Souter's copy of the Declaration? In my copy, the first paragraph justifies the independence of America under "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." Three other references to God appear in the Declaration: as "Creator," as "Supreme Judge of the World" (take that, you robed ninnies), and as "divine Providence."

From what source does Souter think the people derive their authority over their government, via that "consent of the governed" of which he makes so much? They get it from the fact that they were created equal, as bearers of natural rights antecedent to all human laws and government. In other words, in the view of the signers of the Declaration, all political authority is grounded in principles for which God is responsible as our Creator.
Just for good measure, here's a related comment from George Will of the Washington Post (also available at townhall.com without a registration requirement):
Never mind the court's minute reasoning about the finely tuned criteria it has spun over the years. Instead, consider — as the court should have done years ago, when it began policing religious displays — a few facts about the era in which the establishment clause was written.

In 1789 the First Amendment was drafted by the first Congress — after it had hired a chaplain. Although President Jefferson's religion was a watery deism, he regularly attended Christian worship services, often with the Marine band participating, in the hall of the House of Representatives. The House was used because of the shortage of suitable venues in the newly founded District of Columbia. Jefferson, who coined the metaphor "wall of separation" about relations between church and state, also allowed the War Office and Treasury to be used for religious services that were open to the public. The Supreme Court chamber also was used for services.

On the Fourth of July, 1801, a minister took up a collection on the House floor to support services he conducted at a nearby hotel. Jefferson contributed $25 to the cause. The speaker's chair served as a pulpit for Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Quaker clergy. In 1813 a Massachusetts congressman reported that "two very Christian discourses" were "preached in the hall introductory to a contribution for the purpose of spreading a knowledge of the gospel in Asia." Services were conducted in the old House, now Statuary Hall, until 1857.

The generation that wrote and ratified the First Amendment obviously thought that none of these practices — all recounted in James H. Hutson's book "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic," published by the Library of Congress and based on an exhibit there — violated the establishment clause. So why is today's court preoccupied with the supposed problem of mere displays of the Commandments? Because beginning about 25 years ago the court evidently decided that the establishment clause's historical context, and the Framers' intentions regarding it, are irrelevant.
But then again, the trend of ignoring historical precedent and, even, putting the Constitution in secondary status to foreign law, is nothing new with this court.


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