Saturday, January 07, 2006

Appeasement of Judicial Tyranny

For 189 years, the Indiana legislature has started each legislative session with an invocation to the Almighty. But in November, U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton ruled that legislative prayers could not invoke "Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal."

In his November ruling, Hamilton cited various precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court and several lower courts, ruling that the Constitution's establishment clause precludes one religious denomination from being officially preferred over another.

OK, so let's get a few facts straight before continuing. Judge Hamilton studied available prayers from the 2005 Indiana legislative session. As the grandson of a Methodist minister, Judge Hamilton is quite obviously an astute theologian of the first order. Thus, I will accept at face value his conclusion that a substantial majority of prayers offered during the session were "explicitly Christian in content." He said they represent "a clear endorsement of Christianity, sending the message to others that they are outsiders and the message to Christians that they are favored insiders."

According to the esteemed Philosopher King, Judge Hamilton, the establishment clause says that "one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." But what does the so-called “establishment clause” actually say? The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That's it, folks. "CONGRESS shall make no law." When the constitution was ratified, nine states had taxpayer supported state churches. While Jefferson may have concluded that such was an offense against mankind, the overwhelming majority of Americans had little sympathy for the mythical wall of separation dividing God and government. Moreover, the last time I checked, the Indiana legislature was not the congress of the United States, but as I have neither the time nor the inclination to get into a discussion of the incorporation doctrine, substantive and procedural due process, etc., I’m going to leave that issue alone for now. Maybe some other time (If you are interested in my essay on abortion and judicial supremacy, click here).

So what was the response of elected leaders in Indiana? Feigned outrage. House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, said, "We will continue to fight this order by every constitutional means available until it is overturned." Democratic leader Patrick Bauer compared the ruling to totalitarianism. "I see where religions were forbidden in other countries. In communist countries. In totalitarian countries. I think this smacks of that," said Bauer.

Judge Hamilton decreed that Bosma act as a theological traffic cop, approving prayers of clergyman before they were delivered. Hamilton was not effectively ordering that prayers cease. Rather, he was demanding syncretism. Bland prayers lifted heavenward to an ethereal entity of one sort or another. That Bosma refused to take that step is admirable, but too timid in my view.

Yesterday, as the legislature met for the first time since Hamilton's ruling, Bosma, Bauer and the rest could have followed the example of Andy Jackson, who said of the Marshall Court, "The Supreme Court has made it's decision, now let them enforce it." Had they resisted, would Judge Hamilton have had them arrested? If so, he should be impeached.

But instead, they caved. According to the Indianapolis Star, rather than defying black-robed tyranny masquerading as law, legislators opted instead to have a prayer huddle in the back of the House chamber minutes before the opening gavel.

Much can be said about civil disobedience, suffice to say for now that only in extreme circumstances, after large amounts of prayer, reflection, and counting the costs, should Christians openly rebel against the State.

However, there are times when civil disobedience is justified, nay, demanded by Scripture. In Ex. 1:18-21 we read the account of Pharaoh commanding the Israelite midwives to kill every Jewish boy. They disobeyed and were counted blessed by God. In II Kings we read of the high priest Jehoiada leading a coup against Athaliah. Daniel 3 gives the account of Shadrach, Meschach and Aded-Nego, who defied Nebuchadnezzar. When the disciples were arrested for preaching the Gospel, Peter’s reply recorded in Acts 5:29 was, "We ought to obey God rather than men." Needless to say, they continued to preach (Acts 4:18-31, Acts 5:17-29). What of Daniel’s defiance of King Darius’ decree (Daniel 6:1-17) or Rahab’s deceit in protecting Israel’s spies? Sometimes we must say "No," and perhaps the time has come to cry "Enough."

1 comment:

Darrell said...

Hi Judd,

The unbridled pursuit of perfectionism is in itself sinful. The fact is that Christians are responsible for the current mess that we face. While evangelicals are finally getting around to recognizing the infallibility of Scripture, they have not thought through the sufficiency of Scripture. If Christians ever get around to recovering a fully-orbed theology of the State and culture, we can again begin to act as salt and light, which is duty of Christians.

I addressed a number of these issues in a short essay at

I wrote:

"With respect to civil disobedience, Romans 13 clearly forbids lone ranger-style anarchism. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin made the point that God ordains all magistrates, not merely the supreme civil authority. Since all civil authorities have an obligation to interpret the law, and since law supercedes even the king, lower magistrates may lead a rebellion against higher civil authorities that violate the law if there is no other appropriate means of redress. Much more can and should be said about civil disobedience, suffice to say for now that only in extreme circumstances, after large amounts of prayer, reflection, and counting the costs, should Christians openly rebel against the State.

Fortunately, we still live in a nation where a “revolution” can be engineered at the ballot box rather than in the streets."

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