Faith and Doubt

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Last note on the Moore case for a while. One of the irksome, if unsurprising, things about this case is that (despite the best efforts of Jeffrey Toobin on CNN) the media has largely acted as though, just because this is a publicly controversial issue, it's also legally controversial… which it really ain't. Moore knows full well he's got a loser case. But one of the ways his supporters have tried to create doubt about the legal status of his action is by reference to a recent case decided by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. One of Moore's fellow travellers recently alleged that this court reached "a completely different decison"—implying that there was a substantively similar case in which that court simply interpreted the law differently.

Well. Let's take a look at the 3rd Circuit decision [PDF]. What we see is, in fact, only the most superficial possible similarity. This suit also involved a challenge to a Ten Commandments plaque that had been built into a courthouse in 1920. The court stressed that the state had since done nothing to celebrate or draw particular attention to the plaque and, most importantly, that since the desire to retain the plaque was motivated by a secular goal of historic preservation, reasonable observers and residents would not conclude that the plaque's presence constituted an official endorsement of religion. In other words, the crucial reason for allowing that Ten Commandments to stay was that the case was not like the one in Alabama—not a case in which the Commandments would be perceived by reasonable observers as "acknowledging the sovereigny of God" in the public sphere. The folks who are disingenuously citing this case need to reread that bit about "bearing false witness."

NEXT: Purge Alert

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  1. Firstly, There is a difference between being “religious” and being a “Christian”. I’ll not waste time explaining the difference other that to ditto that which a previous post already noted (Jeff Smith). While I also agree that a small percentage of those who call themselves Christians actually have read and know the content of the Bible, those who have/do are still likely greater in number than secularists who can say they have. It is interesting that in the majority of instances (on both sides of the issue)that either has only read enough to support their predisposed ideas, and will only quote (often out of context) that part of it. Yes, there are those well educated few who frequent this blog who have studied the Bible and likely other Theological/Philosophical literature and can well articulate a reasoned argument for their individual beliefs. But the majortiy of people who oppose Christianity do so out of the same ignorance and biggoted self worship that motivates terrorists/klansmen/greenfreaks/right wing militants and so on… I deeply respect the strong mind and free will that is so often demonstrated on this blog (why I read here), but it is the height of intellectual dishonesty to imply that the men who devised our form of governance where not in large part inspired by and borrowing from those laws which they saw as “natural” and “God Given”. They were submissive to those laws and could not have (IMHO) concieved our government intending for the “separation” clause to have gone this far off the chart.

  2. you’re asking for too much thought there, Julian…

    Most common folk don’t put too much thought into the subtle differences between intent and purpose. They listen to whatever so-called “authority figure” tells them is going on and if it matches their own beliefs, they’ll buy it without giving it any kind of thought to whether or not it is the truth. They’ll give up their life savings to buy swampland in Florida if their “authority figures” tell them so.

  3. Greg-
    Do you apply the similar analysis to other aspects of the First Amendment? Because a lot of things that aren’t literally “laws” (campus speech codes, various administrative rules at government agencies) have (especially since incorporation) long been held to be subject to First Amendment review.

  4. a metal plaque is the state forcing religious belief on people?

  5. My question is who paid for the statue in the first place? Was it the Alabaman tax payer. If so, then I ask, how would you feel if your tax dollars paid for a statue of the koran, satanic bible or the Tao of Poo in your state court house?
    Presuming the statue was paid for by the public and not by Mr. Moore, it should have never been erected in the first place. Theft, as usual, by arrogant assholes in power. Big surprise.

  6. No, the monument was privately funded. The space in which it’s displayed, on the other hand, was not.

    And no, anonoman, the granite (not metal) monument (not plaque) isn’t forcing a religious belief on anyone. That would be a free exercise issue. This is an establishment case.

  7. yeah comparing satanic bible et al with one of the pillers of western civilization

    we should also burn all the art, destroy any references to greek philosophy and purge our public space clean of anything of historical significance.

    anything to shit on a fundie

  8. Ig:

    Whatever Moore thinks of the role of the Bible in the origins of our law, it is simple and incorrect to say: “See here this book from which all laws descend.” Historically, this is inaccurate: our law is indebted to Hammurabi, to the Romans, to the Greeks.

    It is silly to argue that our laws descend from the utterings of any god because gods–at least interfering ones–do not exist. The Hebrew scriptures, specifically the law giving books rather than the national saga ones, are best understood as an early example of totalitarianism; the evolution of those laws over time, seen as Genesis gives way to Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy (it means second law, and it was “found” in the temple when the high priest and the king felt the people were getting a little too uppity), demonstrates nothing more than a ruling class trying to stay one step ahead of the people.

    (I have long suspected that Leviticus proscribes the eating of pork because the author must have had a brother who raised sheep.)

    It is impossible to have reasonable conversations with people who cling to unreasonable beliefs that had been implanted in their heads when they were too young to think for themselves.

    This is a nation of men and laws; Moore’s beliefs are irrational, inaccurate and have no place in governance.

  9. Ig:

    Whatever Moore thinks of the role of the Bible in the origins of our law, it is simple and incorrect to say: “See here this book from which all laws descend.” Historically, this is inaccurate: our law is indebted to Hammurabi, to the Romans, to the Greeks.

    It is silly to argue that our laws descend from the utterings of any god because gods–at least interfering ones–do not exist. The Hebrew scriptures, specifically the law giving books rather than the national saga ones, are best understood as an early example of totalitarianism; the evolution of those laws over time, seen as Genesis gives way to Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy (it means second law, and it was “found” in the temple when the high priest and the king felt the people were getting a little too uppity), demonstrates nothing more than a ruling class trying to stay one step ahead of the people.

    (I have long suspected that Leviticus proscribes the eating of pork because the author must have had a brother who raised sheep.)

    It is impossible to have reasonable conversations with people who cling to unreasonable beliefs that had been implanted in their heads when they were too young to think for themselves.

    This is a nation of men and laws; Moore’s beliefs are irrational, inaccurate and have no place in governance.

  10. if only we worshipped Ayn Rand like TJ

  11. “You shall have no other gods besides Me”
    Is a pillar of western civilization?

    “You shall not make for yourself an idol”
    ??

    “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”
    ??

    “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”
    ??

    I think the not killing and not stealing stuff is pretty good though.

  12. baby

    bathwater

  13. Libertarianism is hostile to religion because it (libertarianism, not religion) considers human freedom to be the highest possible good. That doesn’t jibe with the notion of a “supreme being” watching over you.

  14. Don’t you folks know not to talk about politics or religion!!?!

  15. heathen: I disagree. I have met plenty of
    fundamentalist atheists who were just as
    narrow-minded as any fundamentalist Christian.

    It is the attitude that makes the difference.
    Is the person interested in learning or have
    they found the revealed truth? Atheism can
    be a revealed truth just as much as Christianity,
    and often is.

    Indeed, given the social costs associated with
    being an atheist, we would expect them on
    average to be more strident than persons with
    more socially respectable belief systems.

    Economist readers will recognize Iannacone’s
    work (he’s at George Mason and his papers are
    really interesting) in my last remark. He’s
    also a Chicago guy. Go team!

    Jeff

  16. Do we tolerate Hitler or Stalin?

    No. But if some idiot wants to wear a swastika t-shirt, or hand out pamphlets on Marxism, that’s perfectly tolerable. It’s a horrible thing to do, but I won’t try to infringe his right to do it. So I’ll tolerate anybody who sympathizes with those thugs, as long as they don’t engage in violence as those thugs did.

    As far as the mass of legal arguments pro and con on the 10 commandments in a courthouse, let’s get down to basics: The judge didn’t just post a famous legal document in the rotunda, alongside other famous legal document. He set up a shrine specifically to one set of laws with religious significance. It was a shrine, not an exhibit. Anybody who’s seen a picture of it can see that.

    Leave aside all legal issues. At what point will we realize the blindingly obvious truth that it’s a courthouse, not a church? What if he started putting up icons (as in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, not graphical user interfaces), crucifixes, altars, etc.? At what point can somebody say “Hey, moron, this is a courthouse, not a church!”?

    Here’s a better thought: What if he put up a statue of the Virgin Mary? I’m a Catholic, so it doesn’t bother me, but I suspect a lot of fundamentalist protestants would be dismayed. If he did that there would be no way to say “Oh, it’s just a monument to a famous set of laws.” So can I put up my Mary statue in the courthouse? What if we let every religion start decorating the courthouse rotunda until it’s so baroque that you go blind looking at it? Can’t a judge say “Hey, idiots, this is a courthouse, not a shrine. Go do that in your churches!”?

  17. But the majortiy of people who oppose Christianity do so out of the same ignorance and biggoted self worship that motivates terrorists/klansmen/greenfreaks/right wing militants and so on…

    I love it when people assume that disagreement with their pet position is most likely the result of ignorance. I’ve heard the same argument made for communism, environmentalism, atheism, and for that matter, libertarianism.

    That kind of arrogance seems more self-worshipful than anything else I’ve read on this thread.

    (BTW, I’m one of those guys that went to church 3 days a week for about 17 years, read the Bible cover-to-cover–a couple of times–and walked away from it all at the first opportunity. My aversion to Christianity is based on a lot of things, but ignorance is not one of them.)

  18. Ig,
    You imply that the founders derived natural rights from god as the basis for our law, therefore we should consider religion an important part of modern law. But that is like considering a flat-earth theory or geo-centric solar system theory an important part of modern science. The religious beliefs of the founders are irrelevant.

  19. There is one nagging doubt I’ve had, which is: can lower federal courts trump state courts. And what is the power of a lower federal court to order a state judge to do something. For a few reasons, that doubt is really a red herring (Moore’s clearly wrong (?)), but things could have played out differently. Quote from a Volokh post from a while back:

    And, yes, I realize that there are some potentially complex legal questions related to the extent to which the decisions of lower federal courts should bind state judges, but here Chief Justice Moore was pretty clearly fighting established U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Maybe sometimes such fights should be waged — but I don’t think it’s the place of judges to engage in this sort of disobedience.

    You’re right about that other 10 Commandments decision, but while he’s wrong to not follow the order, he’s not necessarily dead wrong on the law. The S.Ct.’s jurisprudence in this area is acknowledged to be a fiasco.

  20. a marian statue would be goddess worship, a big no no in most religions. 🙂

    seriously, what i find most fascinating about this (outside of the natures god inscription on the 2.5 ton behemoth) is that there is a strain of the population which feels threatened because they’re christians, despite being the majority of the population. you see this in the william donohue catholic league releases as well despite the organized protection of pedophiles by the american church’s heirarchy. a smaller religious group, especially a whacky fringe one, would have been eviscerated both publically and legally. the catholic church owns all sorts of nice things that haven’t been confiscated by the gov’t.

    fundamentalist atheists are super fucking annoying. i guess because part of me expects that sort of annoying behavior from certain strains of christian (JW, etc) but just from regular joe schmoes with little agenda to push outside of “they lied to me”

    well, “they” lie to lots of people. get back in line!

  21. Jeff,

    Just what is a ‘fundamentalist atheist’? Is there a single canon that they accept unquestioningly as the absolute truth ala Christian Fundamentalists and the “Holy” Bible? “Wealth of Nations” perhaps? The Principia? The Origin of Species!I just wanted to clarify ‘fundamentalist atheist’ for purposes of following the thread.

    Also, I lived in South Carolina for a couple of years (if ya call that livin’! :)), and I was very careful to not say that I didn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian mythos — I was quite circumspect in that regard, very much the opposite of strident. The particular town in which I lived supposedly has more churches per capita than any other town in the USA (pop >5000), but I didn’t know that until after I moved. I just knew they were, well, frighteningly religious. It was vaguely Lovecraftian, somehow…

  22. “yeah comparing satanic bible et al with one of the pillers of western civilization”

    OK, smartass, what if he’d installed a fire pit for burnt offerings (complete with giant bearded statue) and an altar with a blood gutter?

  23. “But that is like considering a flat-earth theory or geo-centric solar system theory an important part of modern science. The religious beliefs of the founders are irrelevant.”

    Not exactly. There is no doctrine of stare decisis in science. Assuming (as I do) that scientific truth exists – the truth or falsity of a scientific observation/hypothesis does not turn on whether or not the the scientific community has officially endorsed + accepted it. If we apply the scientific method to an observation and draw only rational conslusions from our experiment, we can apprehend scientific truth individually. In contrast, the “true” meaning of a legal document necessarily includes a subjective determination by a reader – such as a court or tribunal. One cannot prove that her reading of the Constitution is THE valid reading without citing (or refuting) doctrinal (and historical) evidence.

    For this reason, evidence of what the founders meant when they ratified the 1st Amendment is both relevant and probative to its contemporary meaning – albeit not dispositive. This concept is often difficult for non-lawyers to understand – just as many scientific concepts are difficult for non-scientists to understand.

  24. I think this debate is missing a major point: Moore is a judge; his job is to enforce the law, regardless of his personal viewpoint. The fact that he didn’t step down from the bench indicates to me that he’s mostly interested in keeping his job.

    Moore in a demagogue, pure and simple. Check his bio: he has built his career on this kind of grandstanding. He’s interested in nothing more than getting the Bible-thumpers to vote him back into office. Anyone who buys into his snake-oil pitch is being played for a sap.

    The spirit of Matthew Harrison Brady (Elmer Gantry?) looms large…

  25. “OK, smartass, what if he’d installed a fire pit for burnt offerings (complete with giant bearded statue) and an altar with a blood gutter?”

    and this has what to do with the foundations of Western understanding of ethics? or just another crude hachet-job on the Judeo-Christian tradition?

  26. a fundamentalist atheist is an atheist who more often than not left fundamentalist christianity and replaced the phrase “god” with “no god” in his vocabulary and then promptly went back to being a fucking pain in the ass to everyone around him/her. i would put some objectivists in this category as well. the tactics remain the same, but the doctrine shifts a bit to give new focus.

    in some cases they were abused or were otherwise smacked around by a god squad of sorts when younger and grew up with a bitter if somewhat understandable chip on their shoulder. i can appreciate the usefulness of having a temporary antinomian transformation, especially in the mid to late teens as it teaches you not to be afraid of being shunned and/or harmed by folks who live around you when you commit a crime against their reality. (or at least not afraid enough to stop being what you are, whatever that may be)

    but for some reason certain people never let go of it and reach a middle ground of being able to keep their own lives under their own influence and yet at least interact with others without going batshit crazy stupid on them with their pet metaphysics. this should be easier with the fundamentalist atheists because most of them – i would hope – don’t have that built in annoyance factor of having to witness to everyone around them.

  27. actually anon, i think he’s making a reference to those wily and polytheistic greeks.

  28. libertarianism isn’t hostile to religion – it’s silent on the issue, which irks people who are religious and who think that a political philosophy also needs to instruct them on how to be good people.

    As a sociological fact, many libertarians are agnostic or atheistic – but then, many liberals are agnostic or atheistic, too.

  29. I dig what Tommy Grand says on that last one.

    —but to answer – “Greg – Do you apply the similar analysis to other aspects of the First Amendment? Because a lot of things that aren’t literally “laws” (campus speech codes, various administrative rules at government agencies) have (especially since incorporation) long been held to be subject to First Amendment review.”—

    The full text of the 1st reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion///or prohibiting the free exercise thereof///or abridging the freedom of speech/// or of the press///or the right of the people peaceably to assemble///and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    Each element is specifcially enfocable restriction on the authority of the federal government and on the state governments via the 14th amendment, post civil war.

    Literally speaking, if a guy (who happens to be the cheif justice of a court) purchases a statue to put on the court house stairs, the only possible applicable portion of the 1st amendment is the establishment clause, that requires a law…, that establishes… something. There is no way to read a “law,” in any way, into such an action. The absence or presence of the statue has no substantive effect on individual rights at all. The fact that the judges inside belive in the ten commands however, has a huge effect. But this effect has always been within the contemplation of the enforcement of laws within the US. I still dont see how the statue means anything other than a statue.

    If anything, the people inside the court on the bench are going to be more likely after this incident to rely on the 10 commandments when seeking guidance in their judgements, for whatever good our bad ends that will acheive.

    Campus speach codes (as well as admin decisions)on the other hand represent are different situation. The section that applies would be “no laws… abridging the freedom of speech.” Campus speech codes are enacted by employees paid by the state via confiscated money of the citizens (ie. taxes). The schools are also supported federally in many instances. The money is at least partially brought forth via appropriations bills. The same applies for laws creating agencies in the first place to enforce government laws. The connection with a “law” is much closer in these instances than with a statue.

    Speech codes in particular act by restricting the actions of students in receipt of state funding on state property. This is a much closer connection to laws abridging the freedom of speech than the placing of statue with a religious theme.

    Looking to the original intent is moot, because if the writiers of the law knew that money was being stolen from the citizens to fund public schools they would shit a gold brick. It is hard to extrapoalte their opinions past that point.

    It seems that speech codes would then violate the first amendment free speech clause only on publicly funded campuses (I admit what % of funding that would constitute “public” would be a pain in the ass to determine). Maybe if we just abolished the nonsense of publicly funded colleges the issue of speech codes would drift away to a quite grave. I mean, what did we expect from publicly funded colleges??

    Greg

  30. Fact: In Alabama, it’s legal for a 42-year-old man to wed a 14-year-old girl.

    14

  31. As an atheist, I’m not sad to see the monument go, but the fact that the Feds had to trample over the constitution to have it removed (10th Amendment) doesn’t sit well with me.

    The religious supporters of the monument who claim that it shouldn’t offend non-Christians should be asked to consider coinage sporting the motto “In Allah We Trust”, or a pledge that reads “One Nation Under Vishnu”.

    In fact, I’d like to hear from the monument proponents among us why these religious invocations would be any different from biblical monuments in state courthouses.

  32. dhex did a pretty good job of describing
    what I had in mind by fundamentalist
    atheists but let me add a couple of more
    remarks.

    The Skeptical Inquirer is more or less the
    journal of fundamentalist atheists. If you
    read it, you will immediately see the
    stylistic similarities to many religious
    publications. You will never be surprised
    by the conclusion of an article, and there
    will be lots of snide name calling along
    the way. Only the looniest of those who
    might disagree will receive any attention.

    There is no single creed, but a common thread
    is that they do not realize that science, like
    religion, rests on untestable assumptions
    about reality. Put differently, they have
    not thought very hard, or read very much,
    about philosophy of science. In that sense,
    they are like libertarians who only took one
    semester of undergraduate microeconomics.
    (And don’t flame me about that remark – I went
    through that phase as an undergraduate and
    have sense seen it in some of my own students).

    In the jargon of econometrics, the true theory
    of everything is not identified, because the
    number of candidate theories is infinite while
    the number of empirical data points is finite.
    I think the obvious response is some humility
    (some might say Hayekian humility) in the
    face of our necessary ignorance.

    Jeff

  33. Anon, read your Old Testament. Or your New Testament. Or any decent (or even half-assed) history of Rome. Or Greece.

    I am allowed to count the religious practices of Israelites, Hellenes, and Romans as foundations of Western society, right? Or was everyone living in caves before Justinian? Do you think the doves being sold in the Temple came with sides of sweet and sour sauce?

    Though I’m beginning to understand why some people don’t want to sign their posts.

  34. Je-sus Christ! blah blah blah… comandmentcakes. This is interesting reading, but I just find it so irrelevant. I don’t like the idea having this thing in a courthouse but I just can’t get worked up over it.

  35. I have heard in several discussions of this topic that the Constitution is being trashed when federal courts try to apply the first amendment to a state official.

    One might agree or disagree with the “incorporation doctrine” that the 14th amendment requires the states to abide by the bill of rights. If one agrees then the federal judge who ordered that monument out of the Alabama courthouse was not trashing the Constitution. If one disagrees with it, then the Constitution is being trashed.

    I won’t try to debate over whether the incorporation doctrine is valid. That’s a whole other ball of wax that people could debate forever. I will, however, comment on priorities:

    Say, for the sake of argument, that the incorporation doctrine is invalid. Of all the many Constitutional violations (e.g. abuse of the commerce and welfare clauses), this is by far the most minor. Regulating every conceivable transaction in the name of the commerce clause is a substantial infringement of individual liberty, and should be ardently resisted.

    But ordering state governments to abide by the Bill of Rights is the most minor infringement of individual liberty that I can think of. In fact, I’m not sure it really does infringe an individual’s liberty. OK, it limits the prerogatives of state and local politicians, but I’m not really interested in making sure that my state and local politicians have even more authority over my life. And yes, it is an unconstitutional action, and in an ideal world all unconstitutional actions should be overturned. But on the list of unconstitutional actions to overturn, forcing state and local politicians to abide by the Bill of Rights comes dead last. That’s right, dead last.

    Yes, there’s the slippery slope argument. Any violation of the Constitution diminishes the entire Constitution. But I still can’t help but think that there are more worthy targets at the top of that slippery slope.

  36. Julian,

    I don’t know about Greg, but I apply a uniform standard to the First Amendment: it applies to the federal government, period.

    As for using federal case law to determine an issue of “constitutionalisty,” the original understanding trumps a hundred bad precedents.

    Impeach John Marshall!

  37. Hey!

    A 42 year old man can only marry a 14 year old if he gets her parents permission.

    As someone who was born and lives in Alabama, I can say I think this is total idiocy. That giant slab has no business being in a government building. Moore wants to look at the foundation of our laws? Look at Section 1-3-1 of the Code of Alabama http://www.legislature.state.al.us/CodeofAlabama/1975/coatoc.htm

    “Section 1-3-1
    Common law of England adopted.
    The common law of England, so far as it is not inconsistent with the Constitution, laws and institutions of this state, shall, together with such institutions and laws, be the rule of decisions, and shall continue in force, except as from time to time it may be altered or repealed by the Legislature.

    (Code 1907, ?12; Code 1923, ?14; Code 1940, T. 1, ?3.)”

    As the bible says, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and Give to God what is God’s. This giant monument is only a step short of idolotry, and completely disreguards the fact that Christians almost completely ignore the old testament laws (turn the cheek instead of eye for an eye, pork is ok, clothing woven of two kinds of cloth are alright, I’m not going to hell for shaving, etc.)

    Well, hopefully, he’ll either learn his lesson or be removed if he does not.

    -Robert

  38. Would someone please point out to me where the 14th amendment requires states to apply the Bill of Rights?

    Here’s the first section verbatim:

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    Now how does this bit of the Constitution prohibit the State of Alabama from displaying a religious symbol in a courtroom? Does any Alabama law “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens”? Is anyone being deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law” or denied the “equal protection of the laws”?

    I support the separation of church and state and I don’t approve of the monument being there, but I don’t live in Alabama and have no say as to how they decorate their courtrooms. I still fail to see what gives the feds this dictatorial power.

  39. So, Jeff says that SI is “more or less the journal of fundamentalist atheists”. As a longtime subscriber, I would only agree with the “less” adjective. The magazines stated posistion on religion is that they have no issue with religion per se. Only when theists make testable claims does SI care to get involved. I would agree that SI’s typical subject matter would primarily appeal to those of us with a strongly scientific / naturalistic viewpoint. The primary thrust of nearly every issue is to discredit psuedoscience: astrology, homeopathy, charismatic “healers”, and the like. I would agree that some articles are not as rigorously scientific as I (and I’m sure the editors) would like them to be.

    Now then, science rests on untestable assumptions about reality? Ehh? What side of the Popperian fence do you stand on? It’s a complete waste of time to debate whether science can answer questions like the meaning of life, or “is this all just a dream?” The sort of science most people care about is being tested by billions of humans every day. Every time you push on the gas pedal of your car, or type a response to this blog, you are verifying assumptions. Science makes predictions about the natural world that are useful to me. Religion doesn’t. Science has answered questions about the world that I care about. Religion hasn’t. Just haven’t needed the emotional solace that religion seems to provide some people. When my naturalistic worldview stops working, I’ll look for something better.

    Oblig. topic comment: I tend to be sympathetic to the “Establishment” clause arguments. I’d much rather see the phrase “In God we trust” removed from coinage, pledges, etc., however.

    T.J.

  40. thoreau,

    Here’s how I think the incorporation doctrine is interfering with individual rights (although you might consider it a stretch):

    It removes certain areas of policy from the local arena (or even the state arena) where the individual arguably has a higher degree of control over government (and government approaches at least slightly closer to the ideal of direct democracy), and removes it to an arena where politics is much further insulated from genuine citizen input, and dominated by “professional” elites. To the extent that any area of policy is centralized and made “representative” or “professionalized,” it is more prone to be subject to plebiscitary and pro forma forms of “democracy” in which the alternatives are actually set by tiny elites.

    At the same time, it promotes centralization in the definition of civil liberties, so that the potential exists for a fascist maniac like Ashcroft to preempt more libertarian local standards. At least when localities are arbiters of their own civil liberty, you can vote with your feet.

  41. Brian,

    That assumption of ignorance thing works both ways. There are also facile and superficial athiests who say asinine things like “miracles couldn’t happen because they violate the laws of science” or “how can you say there’s an absolute truth”–the kinds of logical blunders demolished by C.S. Lewis.

    I am an agnostic who is sympathetic to the position of religious believers in the face of a state ideology of official secularism and increasing hostility, and a state that leaves less and less of life to the private sphere. Despite some occasional dick-waving incidents like the Moore thing in Alabama, most fundies just want to be left the hell alone in their own enclaves. Their moves to take over school boards, and so forth, are in their perception a defensive move in response to the metastasis of the state’s education system and its role in defining public culture (at taxpayer expense). If they could make a deal like the Amish did with Social Security, and opt out of paying for publick skools, most of them would probably be glad to let the rest of society go to hell in its own way.

    So I am aware that there are well-spoken and rational people on both sides of the athiest-believer divide.

    dhex,

    On the fundamentalist athiest thing, a good example is Madelyn O’Hair, who created an athiest religion with herself in the position of Jimmy Swaggart (including the money aspect). Fred Woodworth (of The Match!), as credentialed an atheist as anyone, considers her a reprehensible authoritarian. He views her in the same light as Ayn Rand, the leader of an authoritarian personality cult for libertarians.

    If someone wants to follow a guru and a prescribed system of thought, why not try Scientology? The idea of a cult for “free thinkers” seems rather counterproductive.

  42. Religious fundamentalists like Moore are just plain scary. These are the same people who, in my local church (where I was invited for a youth group meeting), were complaining that a girl in 3rd grade was being “opressed” because she got in trouble for telling a not-so-devout classmate of hers that he was going to hell.

    Russ: one could say the “due process of law” is being perverted by religious bias. (i realize this is a stretch)

    Kevin: The incorporation doctrine removes from the states areas of policy which are already forbidden to the federal government, so you cant really argue that it gives the feds any new power. Of course, the feds (Ashcroft and co.) can ignore those limitations, but letting the states legislate those same areas doesn’t really help, especially since federal statutes automatically take priority.

  43. Yeah I’m starting to think Mr. Sanchez has something against religious zealots and/or Alabamians.

  44. So are you guys actually suggesting that it’s a good idea to post the Ten Commandments, a religious document, in a court house, in modern times, as if that is meaningless to the concept of separation of chruch and state? I think they deserve all the bile they get.

    Classical Liberalism tolerates religious diversity in the private sphere. It can only tolerate it in the public (i.e. legal) sphere by its absence.

  45. Jim –

    Read my post carefully and the answer to your
    question is clear.

    I think that classical liberalism, interpreted
    as a general philosophy, not just a political
    one, celebrates the variety of human thinking
    and acting (subject, of course, to not hurting
    others). That is one of things I like most
    about reason, particularly in recent years.
    It celebrates the folks with purple hair.

    I’ve never understood people who claim to love
    freedom and then cringe or get upset whenever
    they encounter someone who thinks or acts
    differently than they do.

    Fundys are people too. I am happy to make fun
    of them with a smile, but some of the posts on
    here have had a really nasty edge, which I
    think is not called for and makes the debate
    less useful and interesting and fun to read.

    Jeff

  46. the declaration of the independence includes the word “creator”

    as an atheist I am offended. this document should not appear in any public place.

  47. “Tolerance of everyone, even religious nuts,
    is one of the most attractive parts of
    classical liberalism.”

    To take it to its logical conclusion:

    Do we tolerate Hitler and Stalin, too?

  48. The folks who are disingenuously citing this case need to reread that bit about “bearing false witness.”

    You are assuming that most chrisitans have read the Bible and know the 10 commandments. My experience from my religious days is that most of them know very little about such things.

    I’m no bible scholar, but when people talk about this case, I always like to ask “which 10 commandments?” In Exodus 20, where they are listed, they are never called the 10 commandments. Later, after Moses breaks the first set, he makes new ones (Exodus 34). In this chapter God gives him different commandments, like celebrate the feast of weeks and do not offer a blood sacrifice with yeast. Here, in chapter 34 verse 27, they are actually called the 10 commandments, but 6 out of the 10 are different than the ones found in Exodus 20.

  49. Jim, if you read your Constitution carefully you will note there is nothing in it prohibiting a complete separation of church and state. What Mr. Sanchez is doing is typical with many libertarians. They like to use superior court rulings to bolster their case when it’s convenient. I doubt that if this were a different issue, such as eminent domain, Mr. Sanchez would be making the same sort of argument. He is technically correct that Judge Moore is defying established court rulings. What he is not saying is that those ruling were clearly wrong in the first place. I don’t know if Mr. Sanchez’s motivation is anti-religious, but I know it is most certainly not respect for the written word of the Constitution.

  50. “I’ve never understood people who claim to love
    freedom and then cringe or get upset whenever
    they encounter someone who thinks or acts
    differently than they do.”

    Don’t you cringe when you encounter someone who hates freedom?

  51. I think most nastiness (percieved or actual) directed at “religious types” from libertarians is rooted in the tendency of certain religious types towards attempting to use the power of the state to promote their beliefs, not in the beliefs themselves.

  52. The third circuit case is not relevant to the case at hand and is simply a desparate attempt by supporters to locate some precedent for keeping the staue, for stare decisis purposes.

    That being said this is both a public and legal controversy. The legal controversy is not a direct legal controvery but a systemic legal controvery. According to the current federal “separation of church and state” doctrine the removal of the statue is obviously within the law as it stands. The legal controversy is that it shouldn’t be, because the “separation of church and state” doctrine is a bad one.

    First of all, the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the 1st amendment. It says, “Congress shall make no LAW respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, …” It is quite obvious that a statue is not a LAW, it is in fact a STATUE. Thus, the statue can not possibly violate the first amendment literally. Looking to the intent for guidance, we can read the drafter’s comments at legislative proceedings to gain some perspective. The fact that the drafter’s of this particular amendment would roll in their graves at this decision, should be instructive.

    The only reason this deciion to remove the statue is legally correct under current law is because the 1st amendment has been read to be overly inclusive, so as to ban all religious comments from state proerty and office that do not have some tradion or historical context, such as building facades or reading of prayers before congress… (this aside from the fact that the ten commandments themselves have some historic meaning in and of themselves).

    This should be a problem for all classically liberal commentators because it is a perfect demonstration of judical activism, the exact same type which is at play for all of the commercial federal intrusions that are facing liberatarians today.

    For example, do you expect judges, who will read the first amendment “elastically,” so as to mean “separation of church and state,” rather than “make no law esatblishing” to turn around and read the commerce clause “inellastically” so as to overturn some riduclous federal regulation. I think not. The entire legal culture and jurisprudential idea of expanding to the authrity of the fedreal judges beyond the intended scope of the amendments/laws they are supposed to be interpeting is highlighted by this case. The fact that via stare decisis the decision to remove the statue is now “legal” is evdence to the entrenced judicial activism pushed in the 40’s-60’s.

    Judges willing to violate the plain meaning cannon of construction are a threat to classically liberal society. Ask CJ Warren, al la “Is it Fair” doctrine. It is not rational position for liberals (meaning classical) to belive that judges will be loose interpreters in one instance and then be strict interpreters when it comes to the 2nd amendment, federal regulation, federal drug crime…

    Just some thoughts from an athiest lawyer in NYC.

  53. I agree with Jeff Smith.

    The anonymous question above, “Do we tolerate Hitler and Stalin, too?” is intentionally provocative, but I will answer it: Hitler and Stalin robbed innocent people of their rights, which is unacceptable in a liberal society.

    (If I were in a funny mood, I might say the world in fact did tolerate them, and there is a segment of the population which still calls Stalin “Papa,” much as the world tolerated Saddam Hussein after he became known as a murderous despot, so it’s not clear to me there is any moral lesson to be learned from questions of Hitler and Stalin in the first place.)

    But my question is this: Does the Moore Monument rob anyone of justice, rob anyone of rights, cause the preference of one class of people over another, or cause justice to be administered poorly? At the end of the day, I believe we need to be as utilitarian as possible, for anything but utility is ideology to me.

    I suppose we can debate this issue in theory until we’re breathless, but I’d gain more understanding if someone could tell me Judge Moore was a poor jurist, not that he was a poor aesthete or poor philosopher.

  54. I think the critical difference in frame of reference (between atheists and deists) is burden of proof. Of course you can’t prove god’s non-existance, except in a very limited sense of a few philosopher’s definitions that have actually been logically inconsistent. People who want to believe keep redefining the concept, and define things in untestable ways (the whole ‘God works in Mysterious Ways’ argument used to explain why bad or nonsensical things happen in the world).

    If you put the shoe on the other foot, and assume something you’ve never seen and is hard to define needs some pretty strong evidence to elicit belief, you might find yourself with atheistic leanings. I’m not saying both viewpoints are equally valid; I think the presumption of requiring proof is more sound logically and empirically and presuming existence of supernatural beings. But the people who start with the opposite premise can never be persuaded, unless they just come to similar conclusions on their own.

    I think the term ‘fundamentalist athiest’ would describe one who thinks he can logically prove the non-existence of God to people who believe in it, and tries to do so much as fundamentalist christians try to evangelize non-believers. If you take the approach I describe above, you at least acknowledge the logical possiblity that new evidence could change your mind on the subject.

  55. “The separation of church & state” is a vulgar description, almost a colloqialism, of what Thomas Jefferson envisioned in political behavior. However, this idiom, as such, is NOT the law of the land.

    “Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting The Establisment of Religion …” — now that is the law of the land.

    And there is quite a difference between the two.

  56. TJ – what you’re missing here is that even divorced from the – admittedly self-centered – notion of a giant hoodoo daddy or collection of daddies watching over the human race and fucking with them for some unknowable gigglefest of a reason, human beings are still into finding someone to do their thinking for them and this applies to atheists as well as anyone else. the o’hairs did fill that position, as the millions upon millions upon millions of dollars they received throughout the years prove.

    because it becomes an issue of identity, like any label people take upon themselves (libertarian, whatever), and it becomes something tangible and real enough to be worth fighting over. which is fucking insane in and of itself…

    i think what irks me most is just like most people who have come to my door to witness to me or otherwise annoy me with their pet metaphysical malarky, the fundamentalist atheist uses his position as a resentful baseball bat against other people.. “i’m saved – i’m not going to hell” vs. “i’m saved from religion – i’m not wasting my life on earth.”

    they can both fuck off and eat fish, say i.

  57. For a pending “free excercise” case see: 299 F.3d 748

  58. TJ,

    No, you missed the point–I was referring, specifically, to O’Hair’s prescribed doctrines, issued ex cathedra.

    And in regard to the miracles thing: A scientific “law” is simply an empirical statement, an inductive generalization, about the perceived regularity of phenomena. So to say that the supernatural, which by definition, is an exception to this regularity, “violates” the laws, indicates a severe lack of critical skills.

  59. Kevin,

    For an agnostic, you seem less in touch with the athiest viewpoint than most.

    1) Athiests in my acquaintence might casually say the xyz miracle “can’t happen because it violates some law of science”. However, if pressed they would quickly say that “xyz miracle is damn unlikely given the current understanding of the relevant theory of science”. Most scientists these days embrace the conditional nature of scientific knowledge, knowing full well that tomorrows data may ruin todays pet theory.
    So what? We are living in a world filled with technology dependent upon scientific theories to continue working. That is, unless you believe
    “God is in the details” to be a literal statement!
    If scientists succeed one day in abiogenesis, that is, in creating life from elemental chemicals, it still won’t prove God doesn’t exist. It’ll just mean we can do it too. 🙂

    2) “If someone wants to follow a guru and a prescribed system of thought, why not try Scientology” ??? How in the hell have you confused atheism with a “prescribed system of thought”? Other than a belief in God being proscribed (by definition), there are no prescribed beliefs or gurus that I am aware of. Perhaps I missed that infomercial.

    TJ

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