Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, April 15, 2005

What James Madison Intended

The Religious Right often claims that the Constitution never intended a separation of church and state such as has been enforced by the courts. They claim that the founding fathers never intended this and that this is something imposed on us by "activist judges."

Instead of just taking their word for it, let's look up what the founders actually particular let's look at what James Madison (the author of the constitution and former President of the United States) said about it.

Some highlights are:

People often say the founders were not advocates of total separation. Here is what Madison actually wrote about it. "I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others. (Letter Rev. Jasper Adams, Spring 1832)."

Madison's opposition to the establishment of Congressional chaplins, "Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In the strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation? The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain! To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the veil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor. If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents shd discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense. How small a contribution from each member of Cong wd suffice for the purpose! How just wd it be in its principle! How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine right of conscience! Why should the expence of a religious worship be allowed for the Legislature, be paid by the public, more than that for the Ex. or Judiciary branch of the Gov. (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820)"

This quotation contradicts the usual conservative cry that the founders didn't sweat the little stuff. They did! The modern "minor sects" would be atheists, scientologists (dare I say...Muslims) etc.

Then there is this quotation: "Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform (Annals of Congress, Sat Aug 15th, 1789 pages 730 - 731)."

This quotation contradicts the argument that establishing religion is OK so long as it is done ecumenically. Madison opposed it on principle not out of practicality.

The religious right and Republicans represent forces that have been opposed to the Constitution from the very beginning!


Dr. Strangelove said...

What I really want to say to the American voter is, "relax." The sky is not falling. Extremists of all stripes keep trying to create an atmosphere of crisis; they take our fears, insecurities and disappointments, and try to twist them into anger, intolerance and desperation. (The attempt to panic senior citizens about Social Security's potential "insolvency" forty years from now is a classic example.) They would have us believe everything is going to hell in a handbasket, that our culture is deteriorating and the best days are all behind us.

This latest push by Republicans to rile up Christians and convince them they are under assault from an out-of-contol judiciary is another example of this kind of fearmongering. The language used is of war and persecution--and it is completely off the scale. We need to tone down the rhetoric. I think we should just start laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. That will help people relax and see these shrill cries of outrage for what they are: a desperate attempt by extremists to make themselves relevant in what is surely a Golden Age.

Because the truth is, for the most part, the world is stable and life is good. Crime, poverty, disease, are all in history. Literacy, education, and technology--all our nifty gadgets and creature comforts--have never been better. Sure, there's lots of work to do, but we can approach it with calm and dignity, not frenzied fear.

Terrorists whip up hatred and drive people to kill using the same propaganda techniques the right-wing is using to frighten Americans about one invented crisis after another. When we argue with them point-for-point, as the sensationalist media loves, we play into their hands by accepting this miasma of desperation into our discourse. We need not do so.

90% of everything our independent judiciary does is good, straightforward justice, that 90% of Americans would agree with. The so-called out-of-control activism really just refers to a disagreement with the outcome of a handful of cases. And these same disagreements have been going on since the nation was founded. Nothing has changed. There is no overarching pattern of abuse; there is no vast left-wing conspiracy (or right-wing one, for that matter.) Those are all phantom menaces (and are being used as in the movie--to undermine democracy by making people think it isn't working, when it's muddling along about as well as it always has.)

Relax. Once we get away from all this unnaturally inflamed passion, about this mythical "activist threat," we can get back to talking about gay marriage, abortion, and the right to die like civilized people.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. Strangelove,

I usually agree with your assesments but unless I misunderstand your meaning, I think I disagree with about half of this one. I agree there is no vast left wing conspiracy to stamp out Christianity, Civilization and everything (although, in my less reasonable moods, I almost wish there was). But as for the rest of your comment, you downplay the divisions in society too much. On issue after issue the division is close to 50-50. What's more, these divisions are not imaginary. They are real - for both the left and the right.

I also assert that there is a very real and threatening right wing movement that wants to roll back the personal liberties of a wide range of Americans. They are doing this quite succesfully and rapidly. Aside from basic liberties, they also want to undo the policies that formed the foundation of the American "Golden Age" to which you refer and they are more than half way done with that project as well.

You suggest we should just laugh it off. But people like Tom De Lay and Bill Frist (and George W. Bush) are not just wacky radio show hosts, they are among the most powerful men in the country! The religious right is not some fringe group it is THE dominant religious and political movement in this country with virtually no active opposition from within the Christian community and with complete control over the entire legislative and administrative process at the federal level. Only the courts stand in their way and they are targetting them now.

We face today the single greatest threat to American democracy since the Civil War. And it doesn't come from Osama Bin Laden or Iraq but from the Republican Party. You'll say I'm fearmongering. Perhaps I am, but I'm not dellusional. If it takes a little fear mongering to wake up what remains of the Center and the Left to what the Right is doing - so be it.

Dr. Strangelove said...

RxR: I agree that the divisions in our society run deep. But extremists in the Republican party have been using scare tactics for years now to create an atmosphere of hysteria among their followers--a desperate wartime fever (like burning the Reichstag) without which no one would listen to their outrageous claims seriously--and I fear that when liberals buy into this kind of rhetoric, they are playing into the extremists' hands.

The LA Times pointed out today that 96 of the 162 federal judges now serving were appointed by Republicans. In other words, conservatives have already taken over the judiciary. This makes Delay's assault on America's "out of control" juddiciary rather laughable, and should assuage liberal fears somewhat.

But really, I guess what I'm saying is that I think liberal "fearmongering," though obviously well-intentioned, is also feeding the fire that keeps the right wing going. I have been as upset by the Republicans' actions as anyone--and the whole Left was strongly mobilized in the last election--but no matter how we try, The fear-driven urgency on the Right is more than a match for the anger on the Left.

So I am wondering if it's a race we can't win. I am wondering now if the entire mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore strategy is a losing one for the Left. Perhaps we on the Left need to bring a sense of calm and dignity back into politics because, in the final analysis, fear is the path to the dark side. (Repeat with me now: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to right-wing extremism...)

Raised By Republicans said...

I take your point. I also have thought at times that what Americans really want is a "return to normalcy."

But I just as often think the Republicans as currently led represent a massive threat to American democracy. Pretending they reasonable political opponents when they are not reasonable just seems like a recipe for disaster. And as an old Libertarian Republican, Barry Goldwater, once said, "Extremism in defense of Liberty is no vice."

I've read interviews of German moderates after WWII who said that they had approached Hitler the way you are suggesting we approach the Religious Right.

NPR reported this morning that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is going to be speaking to a Religious Right group that has called for the mass impeachement of Federal Judges who voted against them in the Terri Shiavo and other cases.

I've been inspired to post something showing what is at stake with the judicial appointments and the so called "nuclear option."

Raised By Republicans said...

Let me clarify...I did not mean to suggest that Dr. Strangelove was or would be "soft on Nazis" or anything silly like that.

I'm only pointing out the futility of responding to extremism run amok with patience and accomodation.

Anonymous said...

A challenge to my esteemed colleagues (those who have studied this professionally): how does today's radical right really measure up against other threats to democracy over the past century? The Japanese internment camps, McCarthyism, Huey Long, Roosevelt's court-packing scheme, lying to the public about the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair... ? Liberals and moderates must mount a staunch defense of American values, but is alarmism justified? Must we stoop to their level--adding to the hype, fear, and mudslinging--to survive this onslaught, or is there another way? Can we refuse to compromise, but still be calm and reasonable? How dire and unique is today's right-wing extremist threat, really?

Dr. Strangelove said...

The last comment was from me, and I hit the wrong button. I should clarify that I did not mean to suggest RxR was being deceptive or mudslinging.

Anonymous said...

Good questions. I offer the following starting points for discussion:

The current situation has much in common with many of the events mentioned by Dr. Strangelove. However while they were threats coming one at a time, what we face today is a kind of perfect storm of populism, nationalism, religious extremism and concentration of power all at once.

McCarthyism was a lot like the current "war on terror"/"soft on terrorists" rhetoric used by Republicans now to win elections and stifle debate. But McCarthy wasn't the leader of his party and his party did not control the House, the Senate and the White House simultaneously during his peak. Ultimately, McCarthy was done in by the leaders of his own party. Who will act as such a check on George Bush, Frist, De Lay, Hastert, Jeb Bush, Cheney, et al? Phil Spectre?? Don't hold your breath.

FDR's court packing scheme was a lot like what Bush is trying to do now with the federal courts but it ultimately failed because of opposition in Congress. Since Bush (and other Southern Religious Conservatives) have a firm grip on the leadership of Congress it is unlikely such opposition will arise unless the Democrats get up for a big fight (that is refuse to be polite and accomodating).

The Iran Contra affair (and related scandals of US policy in Latin America) was similar to the situation with Prison abuse and outsourced torture that we see now. However, we know so much about it because Democrats controlled the Congress and ordered investigations.

Watergate is much like the Bush administration's interference with the press: ideologues posing as reporters in the White House press corps, political ads paid for with taxpayer money and presented as fake news reports, using friendly reporters to attack intelligence analysts who blow the whistle on foreign policy blunders etc. But as with Iran Contra, Watergate occurred during a period of divided government enabling a check on Nixon's abuse of his power. No such check exists today.

J. Edgar Hoover was another threat that you didn't mention but should have. In Hoover, there was a massive concentration of unchecked police power in one office. He managed it by blackmail and threats. But the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act concentrate such police powers through legislation. What Hoover did was ilegal but he got away with it. Bush and the Republicans would make such things legal to begin with.

The Japanese internment camp atrocity is similar to the rounding up of thousands of Muslim and Arab immigrants following 9/11 regardless of any probable cause or due process.

Is there really reason for alarm? Hell yes! Think about it. You had to go back through most of the 20th Century to find events that resemble various aspects of the Bush administration's abuses. Those events happened one at a time with years of relative stability and normalcy intervening. But now we have a perfect storm of threats to democracy. 

Posted by RaisedbyRepulicans