The mini-crisis over the display of a stone monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building is over, I guess, as the monument was removed today. On the radio a couple of days ago I heard some commentators who thought it was terrible that neither President Bush nor, especially, Attorney General Ashcroft had made any public statement on the controversy. Not surprisingly, neither of them wanted to touch the issue with a stick. Today, however, President Bush did make a very cautious statement through a spokeswoman. He said that it’s important that laws and court rulings be respected; that courts have gone both ways on whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed in a courtroom; and that court rulings, pro or con, can be appealed. Now let’s change the subject, please.
In my opinion, this affair did little credit to anyone. Justice Moore’s heart may be in the right place (or, for all I know, he may be a cynical opportunist), but his grandstanding came across as rather pointless. Legally, he didn’t have a leg to stand on under Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. And while civil disobedience is no doubt justified under a very narrow range of extreme circumstances, the presence of a monument in a public building is not an issue that warrants such an extraordinary response.
On the other hand, any extremism that can be attributed to Justice Moore is nothing compared to the over-the-top reading the U.S. Supreme Court has given to the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The plain meaning of the clause is that the United States, unlike Great Britain and various other countries, is to have no official, state-supported religion. That’s it. The “separation of church and state” (much less the “wall of separation between church and state”) is not a Constitutional concept. At one time, talk of “separation of church and state” was a harmless and pretty accurate shorthand. The reach of the state was modest and separation from it left religion plenty of room in which to flourish. Today, however, the state is everywhere, and the practical effect of a rigid separation of church and state is to drive religion virtually into an illicit, underground status. That hasn’t quite happened yet, but believe me, the left is working on it. The ultimate cause of the Alabama debacle is the extremist reading the federal courts have given to the Establishment Clause, which turns something as inconsequential as putting up a monument to the Ten Commandments into a virtual Constitutional crisis.
By the way, my opinion is that the Supreme Court has mangled almost every word and phrase in the First Amendment, generating a jurisprudence that is frequently at odds with the plain meaning of the Amendment’s provisions and with common sense, not to mention the intentions of the framers. More about that another time.
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