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Correction Regarding the Courthouse Russian Jesus Icon:

The blog post on which I relied for a copy of the icon appears to have been incorrect. The correct photo, according to AP and Yahoo! News Photos, is this:

I can't read the text, but this site, which discusses what appears to be this icon, independently of the Slidell controversy, reports that the text corresponds to John 7:24 ("Judge not according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgement") and Matthew 7:2 ("For with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged"). This is indeed more courthouse-related text than what I understood the quote to be earlier. [UPDATE: The ACLU of Louisiana was kind enough to send me a more readable version, and Sasha, who knows how to read Old Church Slavonic -- which differs enough from standard, even pre-1918 standard, Cyrillic Russian that it requires special skill in reading -- was kind enough to transliterate it into Russian. With this, he and I can confirm that the text is a combination of John 7:24 and Matthew 7:2.]

Still, the bottom line seems to me to remain: To the extent the text matters, it's New Testament text; to the extent the text should be ignored, since the overwhelming majority of observers won't understand it, it's apparently a depiction of Jesus. In either case, it seems unconstitutional even under Justice Scalia's proposed test for a court to display the work in this context, as a standalone work in a court house with the caption "To know peace, obey these laws."

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Paul Lukasiak for a pointer to the picture as it appears in context:

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. ACLU of Louisiana:
  2. Correction Regarding the Courthouse Russian Jesus Icon:
wm13:
But "With God, all things are possible" is a New Testament text, and it was upheld as the motto of Ohio.
7.6.2007 1:52pm
WHOI Jacket:
Don't worry, smear a few pieces of dung on it and you've got a NEA-placed arts installation.
7.6.2007 2:09pm
Colin (mail):
Incidentally (and I hope that I remember this correctly), Jesus's right hand is oddly posed because he's making a sign that vaguely resembles his initials in the Cyrillic alphabet. I was going to comment that the sign adds a layer to the analysis of whether text in an unknown language is an EC violation, but then I came to my senses - it doesn't really matter how obscure the sign or the book are, when it's a portrait of Jesus holding them. Supplemental details may vitiate the sectarian nature of the message (if, for instance, the book said "Eat at Joe's"), but the most that can be said for an incomprehensible message is that it does not affect the nature of the contextual image. When that context is a haloed Jesus, the Constitutional result is clear.

That goes to wm13's comment, too:

But "With God, all things are possible" is a New Testament text, and it was upheld as the motto of Ohio.

The motto isn't on a sign around Jesus's neck, is it? I suspect there's a second material difference, in that you can't transact legal business in this parish without seeing the government's acknowledgment for the religious establishment this icon represents. I imagine that one could live his whole life in Ohio without knowing what the motto of the state is.
7.6.2007 2:21pm
Smokey:
"Judge not according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgement"

Heck, that's pretty much the same as MLK's 'content of charachter' speech.

Maybe the ACLU should file suit against civil rights do-gooders.
7.6.2007 2:22pm
WHOI Jacket:
MLK Jr. was a preacher not a politician. Cursed Dominionist!
7.6.2007 2:25pm
paul lukasiak (mail):

This photograph provide a good sense of the context in which the painting in question is displayed. When viewed within its context, to me it looks pretty much like an endorsement of Christianity.
7.6.2007 2:26pm
whit:
not only does the picture depict jesus, but it shows (as far as i can see) a halo around his head. it doesn't get much more blatant a promotion of christianity than this. i gotta go with the ACLU on this one
7.6.2007 2:34pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The Sixth Circuit decision that upheld "With God, all things are possible" relied in large part on the conclusion that "we consider it most unlikely that a [reasonable, well-informed] observer ... could discern an endorsement of Christianity in the words of Ohio's motto. There is, after all, nothing uniquely Christian about the thought that all things are possible with God." While the latter sentence might or might not be true as to the Russian inscription, there is something uniquely Christian about an icon of, well, Christ.
7.6.2007 2:37pm
miller:
Was this painting just put up, if not, how long has it been hanging at the courthouse?
7.6.2007 2:39pm
Daniel950:

not only does the picture depict jesus, but it shows (as far as i can see) a halo around his head. it doesn't get much more blatant a promotion of christianity than this. i gotta go with the ACLU on this one


Funny, the Constitution says nothing about a prohibition on "promoting" religion. It only says that there's a prohibition on writing a law to establish a religion. Hanging a picture with Jesus on it, even with a halo (the horror!) does not establish a religion. Is the Governor of Louisiana the head of the Louisiana-Church of the Courthouse Picture of Christ with a Halo?

"Help! I'm being oppressed"
7.6.2007 2:40pm
Colin (mail):
The Constitution doesn't say that Congress shall not "establish a religion." It says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Hanging the expressly sectarian icon in a public space, with public money, certainly appears to respect an establishment of religion to me.
7.6.2007 2:45pm
subpatre (mail):
"With God, all things are possible" is clearly religious, government clearly has many areas that are impossible.

The icon in Slidell has an areligious message summarized, "Judge fairly" For that matter, the scales of justice are 'religious' as is almost all the Greek-inspired early American symbolism.

Seems to me that there's a vast difference between what the Constitution provided and the secularism being attempted here.
7.6.2007 2:59pm
jacobus:
Daniel950: wah wah. go read a Con Law book for 2 seconds.
7.6.2007 2:59pm
tbaugh (mail):
We're awfully far from the original understanding of the First Amendment---and I believe we have some experts here---but wasn't the reason it says "respecting an establishment" to prevent Congress from dis-establishing established churches in some of the states? (as well as to prevent establishing a national church/religion). I seem to remember reading something of the sort somewhere.
7.6.2007 3:03pm
Matt P (mail):
Given the growing secularization of America (for better or worse, some of each I suspect) I wonder if the majority of those entering the building would know the significance of the halo or even who the icon is depicting (or for that matter what an icon is).

The question of understanding is an interesting one -- what if the picture was of the ohm (a Hindi Sacred Symbol, with many levels of meaning) which very few people can understand and many people just see as a design at Indian restaurants? Just how understood does an object need to be to be a problem?

As an absurd aside: what if an elected judge had this icon tattooed on his/her face? Would they be violating the EOR clause?
7.6.2007 3:12pm
Redman:
I don't live in New England, but I've visited up there. I was very surprised to see so many public buildings, including courthouses, dating from the early 1800s, which contained depictions of religious scenes, thoughts, and sayings. It changed my mind somewhat on the issue. I think people who were within a generation from the ratification of the Constitution may have had a better grip on what the writers of the First Amendment had in mind when they wrote the EC. I saw very little reason to believe that they intended a separation of church from state.
7.6.2007 3:22pm
WHOI Jacket:
If I walk into a government building and I see that a person has placed an Eastern-styled wall hanging up, and I recognize the characters printed on it in flowing calligraphy as a portion of a Buddhist sutra, do I have grounds for a lawsuit?
7.6.2007 3:25pm
r78:
I wonder what the reaction would be if the picture was of a non-Christian religious figure.

Say if all the folks filing into the courthouse got to walk unde a picture of Shiva or something.
7.6.2007 3:25pm
paul lukasiak (mail):

Was this painting just put up, if not, how long has it been hanging at the courthouse?


Ten Years (which IIRC is the age of the building)

(I also read in a comments thread somewhere that a judge picked it up at a garage sale to decorate the new courthouse...However, I have no idea if that is reliable information or not.)
7.6.2007 3:34pm
Daniel950:

Daniel950: wah wah. go read a Con Law book for 2 seconds.


I have. I prefer the Constitution, myself.

tbaugh and Redman have the right approach.
7.6.2007 3:37pm
Owen (mail):
The problem is that the First Amendment is vague. Liberals view the phrase "respecting an establishment of religion" as meaning something like "honoring an established religion." Conservatives view the phrase as meaning "involving the establishment of a state religion." Both would be reasonable readings of the text as written.

Personally, I think the best way to resolve the issue is to look what the ratifiers of the Bill of Rights said and what they did. Was religious iconography in federal courthouses viewed as being prohibited shortly after the Bill of Rights was approved? Was religious iconography viewed as being prohibited in state and local courthouses when the 14th Amendment was passed?

I think the answer is no. The "separation of church and state" line of juriprudence is a 20th Century invention which conflicts with earlier practice (including the practice of Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase). Accordingly, I don't believe the Establishment Clause contemplated the expansive "nothing involving faith or religion whatsoever" test that liberals want to apply.
7.6.2007 3:49pm
Daniel950:

The "separation of church and state" line of juriprudence is a 20th Century invention which conflicts with earlier practice (including the practice of Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase). Accordingly, I don't believe the Establishment Clause contemplated the expansive "nothing involving faith or religion whatsoever" test that liberals want to apply.


Bingo. We have a winner.
7.6.2007 3:51pm
The Cabbage:
Jesus's right hand is oddly posed because he's making a sign that vaguely resembles his initials in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Greek actualy. The fingers are shaped to create an ICXC (EE-sus HRI-stos).
I: Straight index finger
C: bent middle finger
X: Ring finger and thumb crossed
C: bent little finger

This whole thing demonstrates some excellent aesthetic tastes (though I suppose I'm a little miffed about a religious object being used as art) and really poor legal and political tastes.

I've always taken the view that I want no government in my religion because they'll screw it up like they do everything else.
7.6.2007 3:51pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
While the latter sentence might or might not be true as to the Russian inscription, there is something uniquely Christian about an icon of, well, Christ.

Yes, that might be a little difficult to get around.

Hmmm... (1) condemn the obvious as an "overly-simplistic reading of the facts," (2) insert ten pages of convoluted and barely comprehensible argument that it is otherwise, and (3) hope the judge rules on standing and never gets to the merits.
7.6.2007 3:54pm
scote (mail):
The new contextual photo is helpful.

Let's see. "To know peace, obey these laws" with the blatantly implied "see above" referring to Jesus holding a bible open. That is just pretty damn obviously a religious statement, and specifically an exclusionary Christian one. I don't see how much more obvious it can get unless you put up a Decalogue that says "I'm the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before me..."
7.6.2007 3:54pm
BillS:
The problem for everyone who thinks we should look at what Thomas Jefferson did for guidance has a few problems:

1) The last century or so of precedent pretty solidly directs the Establishment Clause in the direction of showing preference for religion. In order to overrule these precedents, you'll need a lot of help, and you won't find it on the current court.

2) Any argument that the Establishment Clause doesn't apply to the states is pretty solidly grounded in the incorporation doctrine. Only Justice Thomas wants to change that - and I doubt he'll get four more votes in the future.

3) It doesn't matter if Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase, the fact is that it's not only what HE thought, but also what everyone who adopted it thought. This is why Justice Scalia constantly says that it's dangerous to look at legislative intent, because we have no idea who to look at. If someone proposes a bill, thinks it means one thing, but everyone else thinks it means something else, does he/she have the right to dictate what it means?

This is pretty clearly an Establishment Clause violation. A portrait of Jesus in a public location seems more obviously religious than many displays struck down in the past.
7.6.2007 3:58pm
scote (mail):
I should clarify my statement. By putting a picture of Jesus holding a bible open, the "obey these laws" statement clearly refers to obey the laws of the new testament, not the laws of the state. The conjunction of these two things is what makes this circumstance an especially galling overtly Christian message.

If the state wanted to make a non religious statement they'd have put a state seal or other secular image above the "obey these laws" text, but instead they put Jesus there. The message is clear and unambiguous to anyone who is honestly arguing the issue.
7.6.2007 4:00pm
Owen (mail):
BillS:

1) True, but the precedent is mistaken.

2) I agree that the 14th Amendment intended incorporation of the 1st Amendment. It doesn't change my point of view regarding the Establishment Clause.

3) The phrase is misleading. Even Jefferson didn't believe in complete neutrality between religion and irreligion, or in preventing nativity scenes, religious iconography, etc., from being displayed on public property with very limited exceptions. The best evidence shows that the founders and the ratifiers in the states believed that the Establishment Clause was designed to prevent 1) the creation of a national religion, and 2) laws that would discriminate against various religious sects. They had no problem with displays of the ten commandments and so forth in public buildings. Even today, you have a Congressional chaplain, and in the early days of the republic you actually had mass in the capitol.
7.6.2007 4:04pm
plunge (mail):
Forget the debate over the legality of the photo.

I really want to know, from the Christians that support this sort of thing, why stuff like this is so important to them.

Why is it that the GOVERNMENT has be specially marked up to endorse your beliefs and only your beliefs? Why is that a role of government at all? Are you really too lazy as believers that you need government assistance to remember your own beliefs and teachings? Or is this more just a matter of marking territory, like a dog peeing on a fence? Seriously, I want to know.
7.6.2007 4:09pm
Virginia:
The last century or so of precedent pretty solidly directs the Establishment Clause in the direction of showing preference for religion. In order to overrule these precedents, you'll need a lot of help, and you won't find it on the current court.


Actually, its' only the last 45 years or so. This stuff pretty much came out of nowhere in the 1960s. Before that, the establishment clause, on the rare occasions when it came up, was thought to address government aid to religious organizations, not government speech that explicitly or implicitly endorsed one religious viewpoint over another.
7.6.2007 4:09pm
FC:
The campus of the University of Texas-El Paso is based on Bhutanese architecture. There are various mandalas in the buildings and two large Buddhist tapestries prominently displayed. These are accompanied by various religious, cultural and political activities. (Google "utep buddhist" or "utep mandala")

None of this bothers me but I always thought that if it were a Christian theme the ACLU would scream.
7.6.2007 4:10pm
BillS:

1) True, but the precedent is mistaken.


Although you may be right, the point is that this precedent has become entrenched. Justice Thomas would be the only one willing to overturn the entire line, while the other more conservative Justices would go along with it.

As for the remnants of the days where government and religion were more connected, Justice Breyer has stated that he allows those things as something along the lines of purely historical and ceremonial acts and remnants.

Whatever your personal feelings are, it seems a 100% guarantee that this would be struck down as a violation as soon as it gets to court.
7.6.2007 4:10pm
WHOI Jacket:
r78, don't most older government buildings have stuff like that? There was a library I went to that had the Muses over the door. I somehow didn't feel compelled to bring a goat to sacrifice to the new state religion.
7.6.2007 4:12pm
jacobus:
Daniel950: Maybe you should stick to theology, which rewards slavish and dogmatic interpretations of original texts. Leave the hard work of law to those of us who respect the great legal minds that have come before us, and understand the role of stare decisis.

The founders weren't gods or prophets; there's no reason to treat them as such.
7.6.2007 4:15pm
BillS:

Actually, its' only the last 45 years or so.


Well, it's about 60 years since Everson, which applied it to the states, so sure, you're more on than I am. It has been refined since then, true. When even non-denominational benedictions at graduations are Establishment Clause violations, though, it seems absurd to think this wouldn't be struck down similarly.
7.6.2007 4:15pm
wm13:
Plunge, some analogies would make it clearer, probably. Why do many Jews want there to be a menorah displayed wherever there is a Christmas tree? Why do many gays want the state to valorize their relationships with civil marriage? Why don't those groups just confine their religion and their intimate life to private circles?

For better or worse, people want public affirmation. Many people don't think that they should have to wear two faces, a public one that is always secular, asexual, impersonal etc. and a private one that is religious, intimate etc.
7.6.2007 4:23pm
Virginia:
Everson involved the question of whether New Jersey could provide busing to parochial school students. These "endorsement" cases really came out of nowhere starting with Engel v. Vitale.
7.6.2007 4:24pm
Colin (mail):
Cabbage,

Thanks for the correction. It's a beautiful piece, isn't it? I can't believe someone bought it at a garage sale.
7.6.2007 4:28pm
plunge (mail):
wm13: "Plunge, some analogies would make it clearer, probably. Why do many Jews want there to be a menorah displayed wherever there is a Christmas tree?"

Because the fairest way to deal with endorsement problems is to make some space into a truly public forum where all expression is welcome, and not just some government-favored one.

"Why do many gays want the state to valorize their relationships with civil marriage?"

So that their families are treated equally under the law instead of given second-class.

"Why don't those groups just confine their religion and their intimate life to private circles?"

You aren't making any sense. We're talking here about things the GOVERNMENT does, not individuals do. Why do people seem so hellbent on confusing the two?

"For better or worse, people want public affirmation. Many people don't think that they should have to wear two faces, a public one that is always secular, asexual, impersonal etc. and a private one that is religious, intimate etc."

I'm not sure who is asking them to: what does a picture on a wall have to do with that? Again, I think you are playing into the basic confusion between "government" and "public."
7.6.2007 4:31pm
BillS:

These "endorsement" cases really came out of nowhere starting with Engel v. Vitale.


Well, I was going with the Establishment Clause being applied to the states, even if not in the way I was talking about. Engel is a better indication of endorsement cases, and Douglas' concurrence cites a nice quote:


The reasons underlying the Amendment's policy have not vanished with time or diminished in force. Now as when it was adopted the price of religious freedom is double. It is that the church and religion shall live both within and upon that freedom. There cannot be freedom of religion, safeguarded by the state, and intervention by the church or its agencies in the state's domain or dependency on its largesse. Madison's Remonstrance, Par. 6, 8. The great condition of religious liberty is that it be maintained free from sustenance, as also from other interferences, by the state. For when it comes to rest upon that secular foundation it vanishes with the resting. Id., Par. 7, 8. Public money devoted to payment of religious costs, educational or other, brings the quest for more. It brings too the struggle of sect against sect for the larger share or for any. Here one by numbers alone will benefit most, there another. That is precisely the history of societies which have had an established religion and dissident groups. Id., Par. 8, 11. It is the very thing Jefferson and Madison experienced and sought to guard against, whether in its blunt or in its more screened forms. Ibid. The end of such strife cannot be other than to destroy the cherished liberty. The dominating group will achieve the dominant benefit; or all will embroil the state in their dissensions. Id., Par. 11."


Sustenance and interference cannot only apply to direct monetary funding, but also general institutional support. It seems to me that I wouldn't really call this "out of nowhere," even if maybe unexpected by court watchers at the time.
7.6.2007 4:36pm
FrankD:
This is not an icon, but a framed paper reproduction of an icon.

This design is not originally Russian, but Byzantine and dates from at least 1,000 years earlier than the original post indicated. In fact, it predates Russia itself by hundreds of years. The Greek letters in the halo, 'ho on,' translate as He who Is.

Christ, in this pose, can be seen as ruler, teacher or savior.

It does raise the question of what kind of people we are, whether believers or not, that we are willing to throw so many centuries of who we are in the crapper to make such a puny point. Does civilization coerce and intimidate? Perhaps, a little. However, each one of us is formed by the reality of those who went before. If our ideas of justice, mercy, compassion and self-control are to be displayed in court --it is just sensible to let the origin of the best parts of ourselves be acknowledged where so much is at stake.

Yet icons for the Orthodox, have become like bagels for the Jews or pizza from Italy. It is the part of their culture that has become universalized in world culture as a generic way of depicting the holy. Would a thoughtful person really want to banish the idea of the holy from the administration of justice? Even an atheist should be made uncomfortable by the thought of unholy justice. --and of any precedent that might banish bagels from the courthouse cafeteria.

How silly we all are about this is also shown that no one has commented on how few Eastern Orthodox are likely to appear in a Louisiana courthouse, and how many other Christians for whom this might be a forbidden 'graven image' have not bothered to take offense.
7.6.2007 4:37pm
scote (mail):

For better or worse, people want public affirmation. Many people don't think that they should have to wear two faces, a public one that is always secular, asexual, impersonal etc. and a private one that is religious, intimate etc.

I think you are equivocating the word "public" with "government."

It isn't a matter of people having to wear two faces, its a matter of not dressing government institutions in the trappings and and dogma of your pet religion. Be doing that and keeping government out of religion entirely we easily and fairly insure that the government doesn't favor one religion over another. Simple.

The only reason people disagree with this obvious and fair position is that they want their religion promoted (with the bizarre exception of Joe Liberman and Dennis Prager who favor government sponsored Christianity to, I think, the detriment of their own and other religions and free thought.)
7.6.2007 4:40pm
BillS:

If our ideas of justice, mercy, compassion and self-control are to be displayed in court --it is just sensible to let the origin of the best parts of ourselves be acknowledged where so much is at stake.


It seems to follow that religions not believing in Jesus must not have the same ideas of justice, mercy, compassion and self-control. If you disagree with that, then you can't claim that Jesus, or Christianity is the origin of these ideals and, thus, they should be displayed in some way without reference to religion.

Religion should not be banned throughout the United States, but it should be for the house, not for the school, court, or government office.
7.6.2007 4:41pm
wm13:
plunge, I'm telling you that many people, not just Christians, want the state to valorize their personal choices and characteristics, and you are saying that the desires of those Jews and gays I cited make perfect sense, whereas the desires of Christians are irrational and stupid. If that's what you believe, that's what you believe. Maybe you can get the federal courts to valorize your beliefs.
7.6.2007 4:43pm
BillS:
wm13, having many friends who are Jewish, the reason they want the menorah next to a Christmas tree is because Christmas trees - for all the commercialization that the holiday has undergone - represent a Christian holiday. As for gay men and women wanting recognition, there are many economic and social benefits to having a marriage recognized by the government. Moreover, they simply don't want their relationship to be treated differently than other relationships. This is nowhere near the same thing as religions wanting their religion to be recognized by the government when no religions should be recognized.
7.6.2007 4:47pm
dharma (mail):

For better or worse, people want public affirmation. Many people don't think that they should have to wear two faces, a public one that is always secular, asexual, impersonal etc. and a private one that is religious, intimate etc.

That's actually a really good explanation.

But returning to state endorsement, while I do believe that the separation might be interpreted a step too far (e.g. when public high schools choirs aren't allowed to sing christmas carols), in this case, we are talking about a courthouse and the justice system. Certainly, we all have opinions - popular or not - that we like to display, but a judge, representing the views of the state, cannot support a religion in that capacity as such. While, yes, he should not pretend to be a-religious, the danger of imposing religion on those over whom he has authority as a judge by endorsing his religion is too great.

That photo, I must agree, objectively represents support for Christianity. And this support is from the courthouse, the judge as a judge, and not from merely a private citizen.
7.6.2007 4:50pm
scote (mail):

Would a thoughtful person really want to banish the idea of the holy from the administration of justice? Even an atheist should be made uncomfortable by the thought of unholy justice. --and of any precedent that might banish bagels from the courthouse cafeteria.

This isn't really a serious argument. I don't think holy is really a good thing in the administration of justice. I really doubt atheists would either.

We are a country of laws made by men. I don't want those laws overruled by people who think they know better and have the arrogance to think they know the wishes of God are God's tool on earth to enforce those wishes. You can't argue or reason with such a person and without argument and rationality our system of laws and justice falls apart completely.

You are confusing religion (holiness) and morality as being equivalent. They are not. Religious people are not necessarily moral. Moral people are not necessarily religious. Neither entails the other.

Second, bagels are not a religious food. Your attempt to argue that the endemic religious iconography of the Greek Orthodox is so pervasive as to represent a generalized iconography for "holiness" is just silly. It is overtly Christian iconography. You won't find anyone using your so-called "generic" holly iconography to represent a Hindu or Buddhist holly man because it isn't "generic."
7.6.2007 4:56pm
WHOI Jacket:
Mostly, because "religion" will never be fully divorced from politics because, until they hook up WORP, governments are made up of men and women, all of whom bring their individual beliefs, convictions, morals and experiences to the table.
7.6.2007 4:58pm
Daniel950:
"Daniel950: Maybe you should stick to theology, which rewards slavish and dogmatic interpretations of original texts."

Translation: We can ignore the Constitution because it's just a dusty old "original text."

"Leave the hard work of law to those of us who respect the great legal minds that have come before us, and understand the role of stare decisis."

Translation: You aren't bowing down before your Robed Masters.

"The founders weren't gods or prophets; there's no reason to treat them as such."

Translation: Another reason to ignore the "original text." Respecting "great legal minds" is ok, but there's "no reason" to respect the Founders.

Sheesh.
7.6.2007 5:02pm
Matt P (mail):
FrankD I get your point, but icons are a little more in depth than bagels. In the religious context they are incarnational -- in someways on par with the Eucharist [that isn't to say that there isn't something of God in a good bagel!] This is not an icon -- there are strict rules on how an icon should be made and this picture obviously doesn't fit.

Plunge, I'd answer your question [I'm a pastor of a church full of these types of people and although I disagree with them, I do understand where they are coming from] by reminding you that many conservative Christians see themselves and their beliefs as under attack.

Removing these displays is forcibly removing a plausibility structure [sociologically every belief system has them]. Doing so creates a feeling of anomie which the group fights against either by seeking to retrench their structures in society or by withdrawing from society (which I predict will be the next step for many).

We are dealing with people caught in the midst of a major paradigm shift who are watching the world change around them. Most anyone would react like they do. All I can ask is that you try and have an open mind and some patience with them and remember that, at the end of the day, it really is just picture and no one has forced you to do or believe anything because of it.
7.6.2007 5:10pm
Federal Dog:
"Liberals view the phrase "respecting an establishment of religion" as meaning something like "honoring an established religion." Conservatives view the phrase as meaning "involving the establishment of a state religion." Both would be reasonable readings of the text as written."


No they would not. The interpretation that you attribute to "liberals" does not account, e.g., for federal holidays based on Christian holy days, which have always been, and still are, perfectly lawful.
7.6.2007 5:18pm
jacobus:
Daniel950: I'm glad you have no problem "translating" what I mean. I knew you weren't a TRUE originalist.

I also don't think I said anything about "robed masters." My whole point is you can't go into these conversations waving around your copy of The Unabridged Constitution and slamming your hands over your ears if anyone dares mention legal scholarship and precedent. That's not how lawyers in our country do things. Remember John Marshall? The debate is over; the judicial review side won.

You can be a stubborn polemicist if you want (hey! there's even one on the Supreme Court!) but you have to9 admit you're not really engaging on the issue.
7.6.2007 5:42pm
sc public defender:
The little country courthouse, built in 1914, where I clerked after graduating in 2001 had the last words of David with Biblical citation up on the wall over the Bench. ("He who ruleth over man, must be just.....")
7.6.2007 6:09pm
Daniel950:
jacobus,

Let's see. You think we should respect precedent, but not the Constitution. You think we should respect the "great legal minds" on the Court, but not the Founders. You complain that I mistranslate your words by using phrases like "robed masters," but you probably have no problem translating the 1st Amendment into a "separation of church &state" (which, I should note for the record in case it's not patently obvious, that phrase isn't in there). I think that covers it, so far.

Look, there's nothing wrong in pointing out that the past 50 or so years of precedent on cases like these has about as much persuasive value as a hill of beans. Error has no rights. And I think on this issue the Court has gotten it completely wrong, "great legal minds" notwithstanding. This sort of thing has become a farce, along with a lot of other stuff the court does these days.

Anyway, I do apologize for disturbing those who want to play around with precedents. Go ahead, I won't kick over your sandcastle any more today.
7.6.2007 6:12pm
Houston Lawyer:
Is there any precedent that says that a religious depiction in a public facility that was constitutional when it was created can remain despite a re-writing of the constitution by the courts in the meantime?
7.6.2007 6:20pm
FrankD:
"It seems to follow that religions not believing in Jesus must not have the same ideas of justice, mercy, compassion and self-control. If you disagree with that, then you can't claim that Jesus, or Christianity is the origin of these ideals."

"We are a country of laws made by men. I don't want those laws overruled by people who think they know better and have the arrogance to think they know the wishes of God are God's tool on earth to enforce those wishes. You can't argue or reason with such a person and without argument and rationality our system of laws and justice falls apart completely.

You are confusing religion (holiness) and morality as being equivalent. They are not. Religious people are not necessarily moral. Moral people are not necessarily religious. Neither entails the other."

This kind of reasoning is a good argument for more religious education, including religious display, in this country.

The idea of holiness and justice that prevails in the U.S. does not solely come from Christianity. It has religious roots that are both Jewish and pagan as well. My argument is that only a very shallow man would object to quotes, or artwork, from Christian, Jewish, Roman, Greek or Babylonian sources.

Laws come from men, but the vast majority of men who have thought about justice have thought that justice partakes of the transcendent, of that which allows man to become more fully human by reference to something beyond self. Otherwise we would rapidly be Nifonged into barbarism by self-interest.

Of course morality comes from religion historically, as a statement of fact. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean that atheists can't be moral beings --or even unwitting partakers of holiness.

I agree that I don't want laws overruled by liberal supreme court justices who think they are doing God's work by subverting democracy, but I don't see the relevance to the issue at hand.
7.6.2007 6:27pm
TechieLaw (mail) (www):
Just a thought:

Why would a religious person *want* government entangled in religion (whatever that means)? Perhaps its just better policy to keep them separate? After all, there's no guarantee that the religious majority will stay the religious majority forever. See all the debates between the Quakers, Baptists, etc. at the time of the founding of this country.

Here's an article -- by a law professor who identifies as a Christian -- arguing that at least in the context of religious marriage, perhaps government should stay away.
7.6.2007 6:43pm
Jay Myers:
BillS:

1) The last century or so of precedent pretty solidly directs the Establishment Clause in the direction of showing preference for religion. In order to overrule these precedents, you'll need a lot of help, and you won't find it on the current court.

So we should abandon our rights because those in power don't want to acknowledge them? Then why did people oppose slavery, women being treated as permanent minors, and Jim Crow?

3) It doesn't matter if Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase, the fact is that it's not only what HE thought, but also what everyone who adopted it thought.

Jefferson was in France and had nothing to do with the drafting of the Bill of Rights. He coined the term "wall of separation between church and state" in a letter over a decade after the adoption of the Bill of Rights. So why should liberals use that phrase, which is not in the First Amendment, to try and determine the meaning of the Establishment Clause?

The true purpose for looking to Jefferson's actions is not because he had anything to do with the Establishment Clause or had some special insight into its meaning. The purpose is to demonstrate that liberals are misrepresenting his position by taking a small part of a single sentence out of context and trying to use it to rewrite the meaning of the Establishment Clause. Whatever Jefferson meant by "wall of separation between church and state", it didn't keep him from bragging about how four different congregations alternated using the Charlottesville courthouse for their Sunday devotions.
7.6.2007 6:46pm
scote (mail):

Of course morality comes from religion historically, as a statement of fact. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean that atheists can't be moral beings --or even unwitting partakers of holiness.

You presume facts not in evidence. You are making an unjustified and false assumption. You merely presume that morality derives from religion and assert it as fact. You are neither the first nor last to do this but this position remains false in spite of the many attempts to wish it into existence.

Evolution shows us that humans predate religion (hint: humans are older than 6,000 years). Humans are social animals and much of our morality comes from our evolved social instincts, not from religion. It doesn't take a religious philosopher to keep humans from randomly killing each other. If that were true, cultures couldn't have survived long enough to develop the religion necessary to create the morality that keeps us from killing each other. Such is not the case.

Even non-human animals have been shown to have a sense of "fairness." Wolf packs have an ordered social structure and they don't go around killing one another off. Even rats don't like seeing other rats in pain, if I recall yet another study correctly.

Humans, it would seem, have a propensity to try and ascribe grand reasons for the existence of simple things. Ascribing morality to religion, I think, is yet another example of this as is the idea that "transcendence" is necessary for humans to come up with ordinary ideas like don't steal and don't rape. Note that rape doesn't even make it in to the Decalogue, whereas covetousness does. So much for the perfect morality of the Bible and the moral distillation of the Ten Commandments.

Morality does not come from religion, though religious texts often codify morality and dictate it. Please do not confuse origination with codification and exhortation.
7.6.2007 6:52pm
jacobus:

So we should abandon our rights because those in power don't want to acknowledge them? Then why did people oppose slavery, women being treated as permanent minors, and Jim Crow?


You'd put this right in line with those? (Let's be specific: this is not the right to religious freedom, this is the right to have a state government display a picture of Jesus in a court house.) Wow, Christians have it much worse than I thought.
7.6.2007 7:03pm
Francis (mail):
many conservative Christians see themselves and their beliefs as under attack

When a majority that is so entrenched that it does not even perceive the degree to which it has been having its way all along finally gets challenged, I have difficulty finding pity for those who feel under attack.

It's about d*mn time that athiests develop enough political power and savvy to attack the utterly ridiculous claim that morality and justice must be based on religion.

when we rely on the King James Bible for our morality, we are in essence abandoning our ability to think for ourselves and are instead relying on a series of very old stories that were very poorly translated.

If the christian god is all-powerful, why did he need rest when he was building the universe? Why did he drown almost everyone? Why did he demand a blood sacrifice? Is there a single shred of reliable evidence that an interventionist god exists? Why do so few Americans believe (a terrible word in this context, but the only one that applies) in evolution?

Frankly, I'd rather have a picture of Richard Dawkins holding up the state constitution. Reason, not faith, belongs in a courtroom.
7.6.2007 7:47pm
Dave N (mail):
Wos, Francis, why are YOU so worked up about religion? Last time I checked, no one forced you to believe anything at all yet your hostility toward religion seems a bit overheated.

Somebody must have really pissed you off in Sunday School.
7.6.2007 8:10pm
Dave N (mail):
BTW, since I am one of those who are not apoplectic about the picture being in the courthose, I should mention that from a religious perspective, I am a liberal Protestant (though not Unitarian) who does not subscribe to either Biblical inerrency or the KJV as the end-all, be-all of Biblical translation. I also believe in evolution though that seems irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Oh, and I really have little objection to religious symbols of any kind in the public square--so yes, I would not object if the picture depicted a meditating Buddha or obvious Muslim symbolism (a picture of Mohammed would be blasphemus) or Native American religion or whatever.

Seeing that picture of Jesus in a courthouse would not make me want to go out and become an Eastern Orthodox any more than seeing a Star of David would make me want to convert to Judaism.
7.6.2007 8:19pm
Mark Field (mail):

Jefferson was in France and had nothing to do with the drafting of the Bill of Rights.


This is pretty disingenuous. Jefferson was principally responsible for convincing Madison of the need for a Bill of Rights. In addition, it was Jefferson who wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which Madison pushed through the VA legislature while Jefferson was in France. There's every reason to believe the two shared common beliefs on this subject.
7.6.2007 8:20pm
scote (mail):

Wos, Francis, why are YOU so worked up about religion? Last time I checked, no one forced you to believe anything at all yet your hostility toward religion seems a bit overheated.

Dave N, I'm guessing that you haven't actually checked Francis circumstances. You don't actually know if someone has tried force him to believe something, or at least pretend he does or risk government-sponsored alienation as in the demand that students cite the post 1954 version of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The attempt to enshrine the icons and beliefs of certain religious sects into the government is the attempt to infuse the government with that religion and, eventually, enforce those beliefs on people--as with the attempts to destroy science by replacing it with religious dogma in public schools, aka Intelligent Design.

The only way for government to stay neutral is to stay out of religion and for religion to stay out of government. Anything less is just a turf war.
7.6.2007 8:32pm
scote (mail):

-so yes, I would not object if the picture depicted a meditating Buddha or obvious Muslim symbolism (a picture of Mohammed would be blasphemus) or Native American religion or whatever

Blasphemous? Too bad he's depicted on the North Frieze on the Supreme Court building :-)

I don't really object to the frieze since the sculpture is so inclusive and even has Hammurabi in it. However the frieze is a genuine rarity and almost no other work in a court or public building is as inclusive, so generally I think all mention of religion should be excluded from government with a few rare exceptions.
7.6.2007 8:39pm
Dave N (mail):
Did I defend Intelligent Design? No. I stated I believe in evolution. Have I personally criticized the reliious beliefs or lack thereof of anyone who holds a contary view? No, I have not.

Do I detect a great deal of hostilty toward not only religion but religious people in some of the comments (not just by Francis, btw)? Yes I do.
7.6.2007 8:42pm
jacobus:

Do I detect a great deal of hostilty toward not only religion but religious people in some of the comments (not just by Francis, btw)? Yes I do.


Good; everywhere else in the world it is the non-religious who face that same hostility and worse (at the hands of the so-called religious). I'm glad that at least in the comments section on a blog about an ostensibly secular topic, the foie gras-like force feeding of religion down our throats is not tolerated and encouraged as it is everywhere else in this world.
7.6.2007 8:56pm
Dave N (mail):
I lived in Utah for a decade as a "Gentile" (non-Mormon). I do not need to be lectured about "foie gras-like force feeding of religion" to know what it is like to assuredly be a religious minority.

But do I get my panties in a twist over religious symbolism in the public square? No, I do not.
7.6.2007 9:10pm
The Cabbage:
Colin,

That's either a framed paper print, or a print onto wood. Its certainly not the original-which would be all but priceless-and doesn't look like a new repainting of an old icon.

You can buy prints of famous icons written on to nice wooden bases. For instance, . This is Rublyev's famous Old Testament Trinity. Its a pretty common practice for churches, laity, and collectors who'd like a nice copy of a classic icon.
7.6.2007 9:20pm
scote (mail):

I lived in Utah for a decade as a "Gentile" (non-Mormon). I do not need to be lectured about "foie gras-like force feeding of religion" to know what it is like to assuredly be a religious minority.

But do I get my panties in a twist over religious symbolism in the public square? No, I do not.

Your choice. But your decision to let the rest of the US become like Utah doesn't mean others must suffer in silence.
7.6.2007 9:29pm
The Cabbage:
gaaa.. lousy html

This is Rublyevs...
http://www.monasterygreetings.com/Products.asp?PCID=185
7.6.2007 9:31pm
plunge (mail):
"plunge, I'm telling you that many people, not just Christians, want the state to valorize their personal choices and characteristics, and you are saying that the desires of those Jews and gays I cited make perfect sense, whereas the desires of Christians are irrational and stupid. If that's what you believe, that's what you believe. Maybe you can get the federal courts to valorize your beliefs."

No, I pointed out that your characterization was dishonest. In neither situation you cited was anyone demanding valorization of their beliefs. They are demanding EQUAL treatment under the law, not special endorsement of themselves or their beliefs over anyone elses.

In the case of the Jews, they are generally wisely defusing the endorsement problem by legally forcing the government to turn spaces that were once exclusive endorsements into public forums. That, in fact, is a pretty good example of someone getting the distinction between government endorsement and free-expression in a public space: a distinction you seemed to confuse.

In the case of the civil unions... wait, you thought that had anything to do with religious endorsement... why again?
7.6.2007 10:04pm
Dave N (mail):
I do not see the rest of the country "becoming like Utah" as in monolithically religious. Nor do I see how the painting at issue promotes anything resembling monolithic religion (I think it is a nice painting but having looked at it several times over the last two days I still feel no particular urge to cross myself from right to left).
7.6.2007 10:12pm
Francis (mail):
But do I get my panties in a twist over religious symbolism in the public square? No, I do not.

your choice. I'm tired of people saying the words "Under God" really loud during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at all the various public meetings I attend. I'm tired of people citing the Bible as a basis for prejudice towards homosexuals when somehow the rest of Leviticus no longer matters. I'm tired of the fact that young kids and their parents have to face ostracism and worse in order to keep ID out of the public classroom. I'm appalled at the ranking of US science education compared to the rest of the world. I'm appalled at the level of bigotry aimed towards athiests as demonstrated by polls which show that athiests rank about the same level as pedophiles in terms of electability. I'm embarrassed as a US citizen that any branch of any level of government has a faith-based anything. The notion that the 10 Commandments or the Gospels has anything to do with the administration of justice is ridiculous, not to mention offensive to a substantial minority of the population. (Render Unto Caesar and all that.)

Wasn't the Enlightment about Reason?
7.6.2007 10:14pm
Jacobus:

I lived in Utah for a decade as a "Gentile" (non-Mormon). I do not need to be lectured about "foie gras-like force feeding of religion" to know what it is like to assuredly be a religious minority.


Um, yeah right. Because everybody knows how dictatorial and mean those Mormons can be. I mean, look at Ken Jennings: couldn't that guy let anyone else win?!

Seriously, this is maybe the worst argument I've ever heard. "I lived in Utah as a white Christian; don't you lecture me about what it is to be a minority!!!" Unless you were in Juniper Creek, I'm guessing your Utah experience was not so cringe-worthy as to merit putting yourself in a category with Mahatma Ghandi.
7.6.2007 10:15pm
Dave N (mail):
So much for civil discource, Jacobus. I merely stated a fact. I do not compare myself to Gandhi--though I also do not fear the theocratic state that you think we are heading toward because of a stupid picture in a Louisiana courthouse (or the Christian bashing that you seem to think makes you oh, so cool).
7.6.2007 10:26pm
Dave N (mail):
Oh--and by the way, the reason that atheists are generally held in low esteem has to do with their smug self-righteousness and contempt toward people of faith. To most people, Michael Newdow, Madelyn Murry O'Hare, and some of the posters on this blog are what they think of when they think of atheists--that is, atheist = intolerant jerk.
7.6.2007 10:29pm
Toby:
Dave N - post of the day.


Good; everywhere else in the world it is the non-religious who face that same hostility and worse (at the hands of the so-called religious).

Do you mean outside of outside of the West (Eurpe and its opressive ways) or outside your imagination. In my adult life, 1980 until now, the only outright hostility I have seen about religion is against Christianity. See UTEP symbols passing w/o comment. See reflexive support of all aspects of Islam as musunderstood on this Blog and elsewhere. And see unveiled contempt and lack of civility here and elsewhere.

Some of use could give more credibility to the morality of Atheists if we ever knew one who demonstrated humility, or kindness to those who diagreed with them, or tolerance, or...which posts on this thread exhibit those?
7.6.2007 10:55pm
Nate W. (mail):
@ Jacobus:

"Juniper Creek" is a fictional place in Big Love. If you were looking for its real world equivalent, it would be Hildale, UT and Colorado City, AZ (formerly known as Short Creek).
7.6.2007 11:23pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
As I recall, John Adams declared days of fasting and praying, whereas James Madison felt such declarations (altho not religion-specific, and not enforcable) were a first amendment violation.

And then there's Akhil Amar's interesting point that "make no law" meant not only that Congress could not establish a religion ... but that it could not interfere with the existing religious establishments in various states, some of which endured into the 1830s, as I recollect. (I found amusing the state, I forget which, which was divided into several religious groups, largely on a regional basis. It legislated that there was an establishment of religion ... and each township could decide for itself what reliigion it was).

And finally, a subject for rejoicing. A thread has lasted for over 90 comments, without sniping on Bush Administration or the war in Iraq.
7.6.2007 11:23pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Madison issued such proclamations in a very generic and non-sectarian way, but later issued regret at doing so. Interestingly, Adams' issued a not-so-generic proclamation, but too regretted it:


The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, &&&, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicon prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them "Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President." This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgivings. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Old Family Letters, 392-93; taken from Hutson's The Founders on Religion, 101-02.
7.6.2007 11:43pm
Randy R. (mail):
"78, don't most older government buildings have stuff like that? There was a library I went to that had the Muses over the door. I somehow didn't feel compelled to bring a goat to sacrifice to the new state religion."

You should see the Library of Congress, built in the 1890s. There are mosaics of young men, youths, naked and frolicking in the grass, or lounging against trees, with older men kindly looking upon them. In others, the youthful ladies are at least clothed.

If any religionist saw those, they would shut down the building.
7.7.2007 12:36am
Randy R. (mail):
Dave N. " the reason that atheists are generally held in low esteem has to do with their smug self-righteousness and contempt toward people of faith. "

And of course, no Christian has ever shown him or herself to exhibit 'smug self-righteousness and contempt toward people" of other faiths or no faith.

That's why they are so loved the world over....
7.7.2007 12:38am
Dave N (mail):
Randy R:

I was stating my opinion as to why atheists are held in low esteem. If you hear whining that "atheists aren't accepted," you might want someone on the other side to explain why. Ad hominem responses (Christians do it too) are not particularly helpful. I have remained civil throughout--and was responding to certain posters who have decided they would rather not be. Frankly, I have never particularly cared about the religious beliefs of anyone I voted for in any election.

By the way, there are several people who have been posting in a civil manner with whom I have disagreed--Scote comes immediately to mind as a prime example. Jon Rowe has been providing extremely intelligent commentary on both threads though I believe he takes a view opposite mine.
7.7.2007 1:08am
Elliot123 (mail):
FrankD: "Even an atheist should be made uncomfortable by the thought of unholy justice."

What is holy justice?

History makes me uncomfortable with religious leaders having control over civil affairs. History also makes me uncomfortable with the tendency of religious leaders to send their followers to kill those of different beliefs. I'm also uncomfortable with many of our elected leaders, but at least we can get rid of them much easier than a religion can get rid of its god-appointed leaders.

Keeping religion out of government keeps religion weak, and makes it much less likely that religions will start killing each other again. History does not show relgious leaders practice what they preach.

I have no idea how a religious picture in a courthouse or government building leads to better administration of justice. Does anyone contend justice is better in a courthouse with religious pictures than in a courthouse with out them? What is the incremental value of hanging a picture of Jesus in a courthouse?

And while I'm on the subject, does anyone know what religion is?
7.7.2007 1:17am
Dave N (mail):
Elliot123:

My favorite definition of religion is one I came up with myself--

Religion is man's attempt to place limitations on God.
7.7.2007 1:22am
plunge (mail):
"Some of use could give more credibility to the morality of Atheists if we ever knew one who demonstrated humility, or kindness to those who disagreed with them, or tolerance, or...which posts on this thread exhibit those?"

I've never seen an atheist demand that courthouses bear quotes saying that true justice excludes the participation of religious people. Yet somehow non-believers are the intolerant ones? All the vast majority of us ask is that the GOVERNMENT be NEUTRAL and basically stay out of the religion business. In fact, I think plenty of religious people see lots of value in that idea too.

I guess that's too dangerous of an idea though, hence all the lazy "atheists are arrogant and intolerant" memes and lying about what is at stake in the matter of endorsement.
7.7.2007 1:27am
Dave N (mail):
Elliot123--

In my church we have elections--and while we ask for divine guidance, nobody where I worship claims to be "god-appointed" and those elected serve for fixed termos of office.

As to your other point, I don't think the picture either adds or detracts from the administration of justice. I honestly don't think anyone even thought about the one at issue that much until someone saw it one day and decided to be offeneded.
7.7.2007 1:29am
Randy R. (mail):
Oh, please, Dave N. You attacked atheists as smug and self-righteous. I haven't seen any atheists here "whine" about not being accepted -- they are merely arguing that they are tired of having religion forced upon them at public assemblies and such. I agree. I don't see why we have to open public hearings with prayers or invocations to God or any other such nonsense. And most atheists in fact do NOT give a fig for whatever else people believe.

This makes all atheists smug and self-righteous? How?

If you don't want ad hominen attacks, then why do you engage in them? Perhaps you truly believe that this statement is not an ad hominem attack: "the reason that atheists are generally held in low esteem has to do with their smug self-righteousness and contempt toward people of faith." But I merely parroted your own words.
7.7.2007 2:01am
Randy R. (mail):
Furthermore, you lecture me about civil discourse, and you type this?:

"and some of the posters on this blog are what they think of when they think of atheists--that is, atheist = intolerant jerk."

So I guess you can call people on this board intolerant jerks, and that's civil discourse. You can call people smug and self-righteous, and that civil discourse. But when I call people smug and self-righteous, I crossed a line into bad behavior.

Please explain the sublties that I obviously don't understand.
7.7.2007 2:07am
Randy R. (mail):
""Some of use could give more credibility to the morality of Atheists if we ever knew one who demonstrated humility, or kindness to those who disagreed with them, or tolerance, or...which posts on this thread exhibit those?"

And of course, there are atheists who demonstrate humility and kindness. But you don't hear from them. Why not? Because they are being humble about their thoughts. I certainly know plenty of humble and kind atheists, and I'm sure if you actually looked around you would find them too.

Upon finding them, would you *really* find atheists more credibility? I suspect not.

It's a lot like when people say if gays would only act *normal*, then maybe we would give them their rights. but that short-circuits the argument -- these people have absolutely no intention of giving gays any rights under any circumstances, but it gives them cover for their prejudice. And so the goal post is always moved a few feet back.

Show them a gay person who is acting normal, or an atheist who is humble and kind, then it becomes, well, all gays or atheists have to act normal, kind or humble. Since you can't have millions of people always acting perfectly, that gives them their out.
7.7.2007 2:13am
Jay Myers:
jacobus:

You'd put this right in line with those? (Let's be specific: this is not the right to religious freedom, this is the right to have a state government display a picture of Jesus in a court house.) Wow, Christians have it much worse than I thought.

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Is the federal government delegated the power to legislate in matters such as this? No, the Establishment Clause explicitly prohibits it. Are states prohibited from legislating in matters such as this? I don't think a specific injunction applying to Congress makes something an immunity or privilege of citizens of the United States so it seems an unlikely object for incorporation.

To answer your question, yes I do consider retaining the principal that we are a sovereign people and not subjects of a central government to be as important as those other rights. Aren't you angry and worried whenever Bush and Cheney try to increase their executive power? I know I am. And I feel just the same when the federal government tries to increase its power at the expense of the states and the people.
7.7.2007 2:32am
Dave N (mail):
RandyR:

When you stated that you did not hear any atheists complain about not being accepted, you missed this "I'm appalled at the level of bigotry aimed towards athiests as demonstrated by polls which show that athiests rank about the same level as pedophiles in terms of electability."

I made some points and was personally attacked--I have never made generalized attacks against atheists in general. My point had to do with the public perception of atheists--that atheists walk around with chips on their shoulders waiting for something to offend them.

I frankly do not believe that is true. But for every Christopher Hitchens who engages in rational debate, there is a Michael Newdow who makes all atheists look like jerks.

Of course, Christianity has more than its share. But I have no use for Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or the very loathesome Fred Phelps. They do not speak for me and I would hope Newdow doesn't speak for you.

Frankly, I am sure there are many, many atheists (the vast, vast majority) who are fine people I would love to have as neighbors and, if I thought them otherwise qualified, would vote for if they ran for office. The problem is that when the average person thinks of atheists, they think of Newdow, O'Hare, and their ilk. Views very similar to those associated with Newdow and O'Hare have been expressed on this thread. Those are the atheists who create the impression of "atheist = intolerant jerk."

By the way, I am sorry if you felt I was attacking you--if you feel my description of post as "ad hominem" was a personal attack, then I apologize.
7.7.2007 2:41am
Jay Myers:
Mark Field:

Jefferson was in France and had nothing to do with the drafting of the Bill of Rights.

This is pretty disingenuous. Jefferson was principally responsible for convincing Madison of the need for a Bill of Rights.

I think it was the actions of Hamilton and the Federalists to create a strong, active executive that did that. Madison initially accepted the idea of a bill of rights only as a necessary compromise to get support for ratification. During his time in the House, however, he saw that the reality of government was different from what he had predicted and that the anti-Federalists had been right.

In addition, it was Jefferson who wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which Madison pushed through the VA legislature while Jefferson was in France. There's every reason to believe the two shared common beliefs on this subject.

Yes, Madison was always in favor of cutting off tax funds being used to pay ministers of the Church of England in Virginia. That's the same kind of activity that the first half of the Establishment Clause prevents Congress (and only Congress) from engaging in. The second half of the clause guarantees that Congress will not interfere in one's freedom of conscience. That's a far cry from the "freedom from religion" that many people claim the First Amendment gives them.

Perhaps governmental entanglement with religion is bad policy but with a very few exceptions it isn't (or shouldn't be) unconstitutional. In case you were wondering, this picture wouldn't violate Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom either.

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
7.7.2007 2:59am
Jacobus:
What "fact" did you assert, Dave N? That you, a self-professed "liberal protestant," have lived for one second in the 20th century in the United States as a "religious minority"? That, my friend, is a not a fact. It is a delusion. A helpful delusion, since it gives you the moral high ground, but a delusion nonetheless.

Also, I think a careful read of my posts will indicate an anti-RELIGIOUS bias, not anti-Christian. And this also helps answer Toby: are you honestly saying that atheists somehow rule over the religious? In this country? In this century? Awesome, I can finally think about running for elective office!

Finally, Nate: I know Juniper Creek is fictional. I was using it as shorthand. Probably a mistake in retrospect.

Gonna go to bed now, but one last jab:

I have no problem with the J-man in general or that painting in particular. I personally prefer the larger than life icons on Orthodox ceilings (like Roy Lichtenstein meets Michaelangelo!), but this one's got some nice texture to it.

I have lived my life as a religious minority, Dave N; it's no fun. I'm not crying in my cereal every morning and I don't mind things like the frieze in SCOTUS. I don't call people out when they talk about our "Christian" nation or the "godless" ACLU. I'm generally easy-going.

But when you put up a picture of Jeezy Chreezy right in a courthouse, with a slogan that essentially amounts to "This good" (with the implied "others bad"), well...that's establishment. Just as much as if the Judge himself were citing Leviticus. (You agree that's not okay, yes?) And I'll be goddamned if I let that be the message sent to every real religious minority child who walks through those hallowed halls.
7.7.2007 3:15am
Jacobus:
Damn my slow posting speed.

Jay: You would have no problem with a state Supreme Court Judge citing Leviticus in making a ruling?
7.7.2007 3:18am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Once again a longish thread at VC about the EC and 1stA, and no indication that many (perhaps any) of the posters ever heard of Article VI.

The First Amendment protects churches from the government, but that was an afterthought.

Article VI protects the government from religion, and it was in forefront of the Founders' deliberations.

Or it might, if anybody had ever heard of it.
7.7.2007 3:53am
Dave N (mail):
Harry Eager,

Since you brought it up, I am curious as to your thoughts on how the "no religious test" clause is relevant to the discussion in the thread. I certainly agree it was an important part of the original Constitution.
7.7.2007 4:11am
plunge (mail):
"But for every Christopher Hitchens who engages in rational debate..."

Uh, have you actually listened to Hitchens lately? I certainly find him as an amusing as a counter-point to pompous populist preeners like O'Reily and Hannity, but let's be honest: he's pretty much turned into a mumbly ramble of pure invective.
7.7.2007 4:50am
scote (mail):

Dave N writes:
Oh--and by the way, the reason that atheists are generally held in low esteem has to do with their smug self-righteousness and contempt toward people of faith. To most people, Michael Newdow, Madelyn Murry O'Hare, and some of the posters on this blog are what they think of when they think of atheists--that is, atheist = intolerant jerk.

You are, of course, ignoring that smug self-righteousness is the general tenor of many religions. Claiming to to be the instrument of the Supreme Being of the Universe who has a special plan just for you and claiming to know his plan for all of humanity is the very pinnacle of smug self-riteousness. For religious people to direct anger at allegedly "smug self-rightious" atheists seems more like projection and is cognitively dissonant hypocrisy of the highest order.
7.7.2007 5:27am
Anon1776:
So I guess you can call people on this board intolerant jerks, and that's civil discourse.--Randy R.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to think so:

However, [Justice] Thomas would, (correct me if I'm wrong) eliminate ALL such breaks for people based on disadvantaged backgrounds, which in my book makes him a jerk as well as a hypocrite.--Randy R. (6/17/07)
7.7.2007 6:27am
Randy R. (mail):
Yup. And that's part of the freewheeling part of posting here on the VK. However, I do not call people who have posted here at VK a 'jerk'. Thomas is a public figure, and I figure he can take the heat. Also, I don't admonish people for calling someone a jerk by saying that's the uncivil behavior. Merely calling names doesn't bother me.

I was responding to Dave N.'s post, whereby he was admonishing me over civil behavior, when in fact I merely mirrored his own language. He apologized for any confusion over the matter, and I find that gracious, and I accept that, as I have also apologized over posts of my own when I felt it was needed.

Where I DO sometimes cross the line is when people start posting false claims about gay people, along the lines of "you can't trust gays as they are all liars,' or ' gay men are only interested in sex' or other such nonsense. When that happens, I have no problems calling a person stupid, ignorant, homophobic, or bigoted, because that's exactly what they are. If you post stupid, ignorant homophobic rants, I have a right to call you on that.

Otherwise, yeah, I love the civil behavior here!
7.7.2007 11:01am
Randy R. (mail):
But I AM flattered that you regard my opinions important enough to track them down from posts made long ago. It's gratifying to know that someone, somewhere, actually reads the things I put out. You have excellent research skills! Thanks.
7.7.2007 11:03am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
The picture might not violate Jefferson's statute. But Jefferson made it clear that rights were to be grounded in a generic God, not Jesus Christ, hence people get the wrong impression that natural religious religious rights belong to Christians only.


Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography

1821Works 1:71

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.


The message of Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers was natural religious rights apply equally to all, to "religion," not the "Christian religion."
7.7.2007 11:50am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I should also note as I did on another thread that even though Washington and Adams disagreed with Jefferson and Madison on Establishment policy, they agreed that in principle natural religious rights apply to all. Jefferson and Madison thought direct aid going to the Christian religion violated natural rights and Washington and Adams didn't. However, Washington believed that because non-Christians had equal rights of conscience, by right, they were entitled to some kind of exemption or accomodation from programs which directly aided a religion (Christianity) in which they didn't believe.

Here are Washington's thoughts on the Patrick Henry's Bill which would aid teachers of the Christian Religion and against which Madison Remonstrated and the contents of which Jefferson's statute made illegal.


I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief.
7.7.2007 11:57am
Mark Field (mail):

I think it was the actions of Hamilton and the Federalists to create a strong, active executive that did that. Madison initially accepted the idea of a bill of rights only as a necessary compromise to get support for ratification. During his time in the House, however, he saw that the reality of government was different from what he had predicted and that the anti-Federalists had been right.


Your timing is off. Madison gave notice of his intent to introduce the BoR on June 8, 1789, just one month after the First Congress began. Absolutely nothing had happened at that point in time to separate him from Hamilton (or anyone else, for that matter).


Yes, Madison was always in favor of cutting off tax funds being used to pay ministers of the Church of England in Virginia. That's the same kind of activity that the first half of the Establishment Clause prevents Congress (and only Congress) from engaging in. The second half of the clause guarantees that Congress will not interfere in one's freedom of conscience. That's a far cry from the "freedom from religion" that many people claim the First Amendment gives them.


This is non-responsive to my point. I've never argued that the VA Statute would preclude this picture; I've never even given it a moment's thought. My only point was that Madison and Jefferson were political allies for 50 years and they shared common views on most subjects. My mention of the VA Statute served merely to show that those common views included religion, at least to that extent.

My post was only intended to respond to the claim that Jefferson had "nothing" to do with the BoR, therefore his views somehow shouldn't count (that's wrong anyway, but hey, one correction at a time). Jefferson relied on Madison to accomplish things and knew he could do so because they agreed.
7.7.2007 11:57am
Dave N (mail):
Scote,

You quoted my first post but ignored the later one that clarified my position.

Yes, there are many religious leaders who are smug and self-righteous. I don't particularly care for them or try to even think about them. Yes, there are people in the pews who are also self-righteous jerks.

But I don't think it to be projection when the public face of atheism (Newdow now, for years before her death, O'Hare) has been smug, condescending, and intolerant--and projecting all people of faith as illiterate hillbillys who stupidly believe in a supernatural being.
7.7.2007 12:13pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Dave N,

It's not my place to tell any religion how to select its leaders. Some think god does it while others select them by election. However, I would suggest that a religion that elects its leaders is less likely to engage in the type of mischief that we have seen in the past.

I speculate that many of the folks who want government to actively endorse religion by displaying religious symbols and scriptures are seeking a return to the old days when organized religion really did have civil power. I would further suggest they see this need because the religions have failed to persuade their adherents to vote as the organized religion wants them to vote. So, if the people can't be persuaded by preaching and religiously informed voting, they can always be compelled by law.

However, this seems less likely in organizatios where leaders are elected and can be deposed by election.
7.7.2007 1:00pm
Dave N (mail):
Elliot123,

I am curious about what mischief in the past you are alluding to. The point of the Protestant Reformation was a repudiation of doctrine that all authority flowed from Rome and that Pope's authority extended to civil affairs.

In the early colonies, the churches with the most influence were the Episcopals, Presybyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists (not necessarily in that order). While the Episcopals most closely followed the rituals of the Catholic Church, to equate the Archbishop of Canterbury with the Pope is simply wrong. Episcopal doctrine does not give Bishops that kind of authority. The other churches even less so.

While there are certain churches today that believe their leadership is directly annointed by God--most do not. And of those that do, even fewer want to create any kind of theocratic state either here or elsewhere.
7.7.2007 1:20pm
Dave N (mail):
"The other churches even less so" was a sentence fragment that should have read, "The other denominations give their leadership even less authority."

My apologies for not reading my post before hitting "Post Comment"
7.7.2007 1:27pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Dave, I take an instrumentalist view of law. Learned arguments about whether a comma or a semicolon changes the meaning of a statute do not impress me. (The nearby thread on e-mail headers is a case in point.)

There are 3 facts that persuade me that the Framers intended to keep religion out of government and government out of religion.

1. Article VI

2. The First Amendment

3. The complete silence of the Constitution on the subjects of divinity and organized religion.

Nothing could be plainer.

As for Article VI, the 'no test' clause was truly revolutionary. I don't think that today we can appreciate (without some effort of imagination) how weird it was in the 1780s to explicitly separate government from religion. It had never happened before. Anywhere.

For most people, it would have seemed as insane as legislating against the wetness of water. Recall the Paley's 'Natural Theology' was still 20 years in the future then; and that almost none of the most advanced thinkers in Europe or America saw any flaws in Paley's argument.
7.7.2007 2:12pm
Mark Field (mail):

But I don't think it to be projection when the public face of atheism (Newdow now, for years before her death, O'Hare) has been smug, condescending, and intolerant--and projecting all people of faith as illiterate hillbillys who stupidly believe in a supernatural being.


I'm curious who it is who decides that people like Newdow and O'Hare get to be the "public face" of atheism. I don't recall any vote to elect them as such.

I suspect what happens is that many believers decide on their own to treat the loudest voices as representative of the whole. That isn't entirely unreasonable, but it conveniently reinforces their own beliefs. Non-believers, of course, are pretty quick to do the same thing, treating idiots like Falwell as "the public face" of Christianity. The same holds even more true when it comes to Islam.
7.7.2007 2:15pm
Mark Field (mail):

I am curious about what mischief in the past you are alluding to. The point of the Protestant Reformation was a repudiation of doctrine that all authority flowed from Rome and that Pope's authority extended to civil affairs.


This doesn't really reach the problem. State involvement in religion, and vice versa, hardly ended with the Reformation. In many ways, it increased (think Calvin's Geneva). Abuses both of religion on rights and of government on religion were inherent in any Erastian church. It's those abuses which the Constitution was intended to prevent.
7.7.2007 2:19pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
If Christ said "water is wet", "gravity pulls things to the ground" or other statements of good, common sense, would it be impermissible to say "water is wet" in a public forum? I think not. The text, I think, should similarly be permissible on those grounds. Justice with mercy is the intention and that is as american as apple pie.

As a Byzantine Catholic, I am somewhat familiar with icons. There is at least one icon reproduction house out there that is syncretic, hindus masquerading as christians and sneaking in their designs into what are ostensibly christian messages. I know this because I saw the warning go out in my own diocese to not buy from them. So let's take the man with the halo and first establish he's christian. Is he Isus Hristos and christian, or is he the muslim Issa? How would those syncretic hindus view the picture? The number of people who might be positively influenced by the choice of figure is much larger than the discussion to date has covered. The professionally outraged will be outraged but men of good will generally will not be.

Among the fully ignorant, of course, it's just a bearded guy with a halo and a book. It is only the partially ignorant, somewhat familiar with Jesus who guess that it is him but don't really understand the true message of the icon and who are non-christian or iconoclastic christian that seem to be the only audience that might be offended. This seems to cover a number of posters here. The people who fully understand christianity, christian or not, are unlikely to be offended.

There's nothing in this picture that is obviously christian in a non-inclusive way, perhaps a coded hand gesture. The written text is inoffensive and well within the mainstream of US jurisprudence in my (admittedly non-professional) opinion. Had St Paul been depicted instead of Jesus, would that have been ok? What if it were some more modern jurist? Or is "water is wet" out of bounds to the US public square if some holy roller says so as well?

The fact is that it is a reasonable government action to put a permissible sentiment into the mouth of a man who is most likely to be effective in promulgating it. That's why celebrity PSAs are not objectionable even if, for some, Michael Jordan is their god.

By picking a depiction that is in the tradition of a tiny minority of those likely to go through that courthouse, it is a very neat way to make secular use of Jesus without any risk of establishmentarian issues except among the easily excited. Or is anybody seriously worried about the Orthodox hordes taking over our government in LA? What religion is being established by this icon print being put up on the wall?
7.7.2007 2:35pm
Randy R. (mail):
The point isn't that Orthodox hordes will take over the government, or that people will somehow convert.

The point is that the courthouse is explicitly endorsing a particular religion, whatever that religion might be, and also giving what could easily be contrued as a warning: Believe this to achieve peace. Which means that if you DON"T believe this, you will not have peace. That's an implied threat.

So what about those who do NOT believe in this particular religion, or any religion? Will they get a fair hearing in the courtroom? Court rooms are already intimidating, and they are meant to do so (so that people will take the proceedings seriously and so on). So by placing this up there, it distracts from the idea of seriousness. Why? For reason, it's so completely false as to be laughable -- there have been many people who have obeyed the laws of the bible, yet have been instigators of war, or on the receiving end. Heck, even George Bush believes in the Bible and Christianity and all, and yet he invaded a country!

It's as though the court put up signs of astrology and said, obey astrology to have peace. Most thinking people would regard that as laughable and wonder what the point is to have it in a courtroom. Unless, of course, the signs are really pretty and they decorate the courtroom nicely.

But I like the question that hasn't been asnwered -- why is it so important to fight to have this picture in the courthouse? A TM puts it, "is anybody seriously worried about the Orthodox hordes taking over our government in LA?"

So if we all agree that it has no effect on the populace, then you have no problem removing it.

Those who defend the picture being staying put are in the same place as cigarette advertisers. They claim that advertising doesn't encourage anyone to smoke. Then why advertise? If this picture does nothing to move the people to be more peaceful, or actually obey the bible, then why have it up?
7.7.2007 2:56pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Dave N,

The mischief I refer to is the thousand years of European history when any religion other than Christianity was banned, with the grudging exception of Judaism. Speech in opposition to Christian belief was a capital offense. Aquinas recommended execution for heretics who didn't recant. Inquisition. Banned books. Opposition to scientific investigation. Albigensian Crusades. Ejection of Jews from Spain.

The reformation did reject the notion that all doctrine flowed from Rome, and half of Christians subscribe to that. The other half don't. Many who reject Rome believe all doctrine flows from a book. And after the Reformation the various Christian sects went to war with each other.

The power of religion was curbed when the Enlightenment took the lead in the cultural wars. In the West we now have religion kept under control by the state and the cultural attitudes. However, from time to time we see the old attitudes emerge. I think the courthouse battles very clearly show that religion wants a foothold in the government. I see zero value in having the government display any religious items, and see great danger in allowing government property become an arena in which the different religions compete for influence.

It doesn't take a lot of fanatics acting in the name of religion to cause a great deal of damage. Exhibit One is the Islamists currently blowing up people who don't embrace Islam.

I recommend respect for all religions, not because I have any respect for their beliefs and ideas, but in order to keep them from each other's throats. Better to harp on the cultural value of mutual respect than to let the folks concerned with unbelievers, anti-christs, heretics, and the army of god get loose.

I like your definition of religion. The best I have come up with is that religion is a metaphor for what we don't understand. The problem creeps in when people accept the metaphor as reality.
7.7.2007 3:33pm
scote (mail):
TM Lutas writes:

The people who fully understand christianity, christian or not, are unlikely to be offended.

This would be the "If you are offended you are ignorant" school of thought.

You mischaracterize the objections.

offend |əˈfend| verb 1 [ trans. ] (often be offended) cause to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful

Yes, I find the situation to be annoying, but more importantly it is improper.

Randy R. nails it when he asks why it is so important to keep the picture if it isn't religious. This is the same issue that came up in the pledge of allegiance case. Supporters wanted God in the pledge because they are religious but in court they argue that the mention of "God" is non religious even though that is the exact opposite of their true reasoning. The same thing is happening in this case. People want the picture of jesus and the religious quotes because they are Christian and to keep those things in the court they are arguing that they are not religious. Pure balderdash.
7.7.2007 4:01pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
Randy - are you saying that the court is promoting Orthodoxism or Eastern Catholicism? That's plain absurd as they're such a tiny minority I highly doubt that either one of these faiths are in control of that courthouse. What faith is being established? For there to be an establishment, there needs to be a faith promoted above others. Believe in judging as you would be judged in order to achieve peace is sectarian? That's absurd.

The text is relevant. It is perfectly in accord with mainstream US jurisprudence, and using Jesus to promote the text is not an establishment of religion. You, and most objectors, seem to be unwilling to live with the idea that the text in english refers to the text that Jesus is holding and not to the Orthodox Christian canon as set by the Russian Orthodox hierarchy.

scote - I covered the question of why you should use Jesus even if you're not establishing a religion before Randy covered it. That he didn't get my point does not mean I did not make it. If using Jesus makes it much more likely that justice tempered by mercy is accepted by the local population, then it's legitimate to use him for secular purposes.

Could they have done a better job? Sure, they could have provided an english translation of the text or picked out a version of that icon that used roman letters in english (they do exist) or even hired somebody to paint one that would have been clearer. But none of those faults turns what these people are doing into something unconstitutional.

The state can promote its secular interest in justice by using religious imagery, "God save this honorable Court" is just one example. This case is just one more example. It is not that the imagery is secular, rather that it is effective in promoting a secular interest that is not sectarian. So far as I know, there were no attempts to widen it out with similar sentiments from other faiths. Had there been, and they been rejected, then you could talk about some sort of generalized promotion of christianity over other faiths.

Your use of the definition of offend is cute but not very helpful in a world where people manufacture offense professionally.
7.7.2007 5:14pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'If using Jesus makes it much more likely that justice tempered by mercy is accepted by the local population, then it's legitimate to use him for secular purposes.'

I grew up in that part of the country. You're going to have a hard time proving that it would.

It would be easier to prove the opposite. Just across the river, for example, a juror in one of the 1960s civil rights murder trials admitted, much later, that of course the defendant was a cold-blooded murderer, but he could not bring himself to convict a preacher (man of god).

The local version of Christianity is not real big on mercy.
7.7.2007 5:44pm
scote (mail):

If using Jesus makes it much more likely that justice tempered by mercy is accepted by the local population, then it's legitimate to use him for secular purposes.

This is an "end justifies the means" argument for anything and it is based faulty premeis. There is nothing inherently merciful in the texts quoted in the court, for one thing. And even if there were, your argument is meaningless because there is nothing that it can not approve of if it fits your ends justification test. Second, you've been deliberate in the vague "legitimate to use" claim as opposed to "legal" and "Consitutional" to use. I'm sure theocracies around the world would agree with much of what you claim, though.

Let's look at your claim:
"If [blank] means the [blank] will be accepted by the locals then it is legitimate to use." So, if posting "There is no god but Allah" in the court makes it easier to deal with the locals then it is "legitimate" to use for "secular" purposes. Don't be ridiculous.
7.7.2007 6:20pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
For the sake of argument, lets say the picture in question was of noted Satanist Anton Levay, and the book he was presumed to be holding was The Satanic Bible.

Personally, I can't imagine Christians not screaming that the picture should be taken down, because they would understand that it represented an endorsement of a religion that is antithetical to their own beliefs. (I mean, look at how Christians freaked out over "Piss Christ" -- and that wasn't in a courthouse over words endorsing it.)
7.7.2007 6:55pm
a knight (mail) (www):
Something that never ceases to amaze me is how anyone can believe this can be rationalised with Christian dogma, admonitions of the New Testament, notwithstanding. The two citations given with this icon are illustrative.

In context, the John 7 citation seems odd since it is Jesus speaking at the Last Supper regarding his impending conviction as an innocent man and subsequent execution.

The Matthew 7 citation is because of its brevity, completely out of context:
Matthew 7:1-5

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

This message is largely mirrored at Luke 6:37-42 for re-emphasis.

Then there is James 4:11,12
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

It is not for me to decide, and I readily admit that presently, I am without faith. I only pass along the text as it is presented in the King James version of the New Testament. If you claim the faith, it is proper that you decide what was meant, as it is you who believes that you alone will stand in the final accounting and be judged by it. Still, the message seems transparent to me. Further into Matthew 7 from what was cited above may be instructive:
Matthew 7:15,16

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

The press for some sort of Originalist Christian intent within the foundations of American is a sham as it is portrayed. There is no One Christian path to be found within the myriad Christian sects of the world. Some Christians consider this argument to a part of ecumenicalism, which is itself a papist plot intended to drive the faithful away from the true path to righteousness. (Think I exaggerate? cites One, and Two). Anti-Catholicism can also be found within some patriots' original intent:
In regard to Religeon, mutual tolleration in the different professions thereof, is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced; and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind: And it is now generally agreed among christians that this spirit of toleration in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society "is the chief characteristical mark of the true church" &In so much that Mr. Lock has asserted, and proved beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only Sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach Doctrines subversive of the Civil Government under which they live. The Roman Catholicks or Papists are excluded by reason of such Doctrines as these "that Princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those they call Hereticks may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of Government, by introducing as far as possible into the states, under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty and property, that solecism in politicks, Imperium in imperio leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war and blood shed

Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists, 20 Nov. 1772, Writings 2:352--53, as published at the University of Chicago's online version of The Founders' Constitution

The Original Intent of Baptists was, because of their history of persecution in America one of religious tolerance as well as a separation of Church and State.
7.7.2007 10:52pm
Randy R. (mail):
TM: "are you saying that the court is promoting Orthodoxism or Eastern Catholicism? That's plain absurd as they're such a tiny minority I highly doubt that either one of these faiths are in control of that courthouse. What faith is being established? For there to be an establishment, there needs to be a faith promoted above others. Believe in judging as you would be judged in order to achieve peace is sectarian? That's absurd. "

You make an excellent point, TM. The painting has no religious connotation whatsoever. It is no different than if it were a painting by Jackson Pollock. Therefore, you would have no problem having it removed.

Unless, of course you DO have a problem with it being removed. In which, case you are most definately arguing that it is a religious painting, and that it can and does have an intended effect upon the population. In which case, it violates the Establishment clause.

So which is it?
7.8.2007 12:52am
ReaderY:
The last round of Establishment Clause display decisions was decided 5-4, with Sandra Day O'Conner in the majority. O'Conner's replacement by Alito, who may well be more tolerant of religious displays, may result in a new majority with a new approach.

The last round, however, suggests several options for starting-points:

1. The Court declared that intent appears is important. A ten commandments display was ordered removed from a Kentucky courthouse on grounds that government intended to promote religion, while another ten commandments display was left in place in Texas, in part on grounds that government had no such intent. Proving intent is difficult, and could significantly narrow the reach of future courts decisions. Presumably future legislators will enough sense and enough legal advice to conduct themselves so as to avoid the development of any evidence of any such intent when arguing and voting for such displays.

2. Another argument given was an "I know it when I see it" argument. One really can't argue or reaso with such an approach: If judges themselves can't articulate why they perceive something, we mere ordinary mortals can hardly hope to. And just as courts tend to see less material that a layperson might think sexually explicit as obscene then they used to, perhaps they will see less material that a layperson might think religiously explicit as unconstitutional.

3. A third argument, and to me the best-reasoned one, is an argument that there is such a thing as de minimis religion, religion which does not rise to the level of a constitutional problem, "ceremonial deism" and the like. One could argue that the threshold should be higher for state than federal action, in no small part because States are only obligated not to deprive people of life, liberty, or property, and hence only such acts of establishment as actually deprive a person of life, liberty, or property -- not any and all acts of establishment -- are subject to incorporation under the Due Process Clause. Under this approach, Due Process does not incorporate the abstract idea that mixing government and religion is evil or immoral; rather, it only covers acts that actually deprive people of liberty in a concrete way; all other acts are "de minimus" in the extended sense of being unincorporable. And one could argue that having to look at an art object, text, or display one personally finds disagreeable is not generally thought to be, among adults, a deprivation of liberty. Indeed, other First Amendment jurisprudence tends to suggest that such putting people in such circumstances is normal in a society in which there is vigorous debate.
7.8.2007 1:34am
ReaderY:
Randy R.,

Do you you yourself believe and are you yourself willing to abide by your argument that if a work has "no religious connotation whatever," then "people ought to have no problem with having it removed"?

Would you have a problem removing Darwin's ''Origin of Species'' from a school library? If you do have a problem, is this proof you regard it as a religious work?
7.8.2007 1:39am
scote (mail):

ReaderY:
Randy R.,

Do you you yourself believe and are you yourself willing to abide by your argument that if a work has "no religious connotation whatever," then "people ought to have no problem with having it removed"?

Would you have a problem removing Darwin's ''Origin of Species'' from a school library? If you do have a problem, is this proof you regard it as a religious work?

Nice try, but the analogy doesn't hold up. The pro-jesus camp argues that the Biblical quotes and the picture of Jesus are secular or de minimis religion, which if true means that there is no establishment clause violation. Yet the fervor in which people argue for the alleged non-relgious works to be posted in government is a religious one. An easy test of which is to say "if it is so de minimus then you won't mind if we take it down." To which the answer is "NOOOOOOOOO!" This is a bit like the King Solomon test, "let's split the baby in half" "NOOOOOO" test. It shows the hypocrisy in the argument and that people don't really think the works are non-religoius when they are actually called on it..

On the other completely unrelated hand you have "Oregon of Species," which is a science text based on empirical evidence and science. While the text may contradict some religions no one argues that it is religiously derived. Blasphemous, perhaps, but not religious. Bible quotes and a picture of Jesus cannot be argued to be empirical science nor that they are not biblically derived. There is no comparison here and the situations are not analogous. There is no hypocrisy to be called on.

Why anyone would try and argue that quotes from the sacred text of their holiest work and a painting of their god holding that text are "secular in nature" is beyond reason and a plain example of irrationality of religious arguments.

How about a deal? The government stays out of your church and you keep your church out of government? They are not two great things that go better together like Reese's Peanut Butter cups.
7.8.2007 2:29am
ReaderY:
Scott,

If as you say the test only works for things that you (already) know to be religious and doesn't work for things that you (already) know not to be religious, then obviously it's not what's telling you whether something is religious or not - it doesn't have the ability to tell what's religious and what isn't. Since you yourself don't use the test, obviously courts shouldn't either.

The test seems to be a test for emotional attachment. People are emotionally attached to many things, some religious and some not, some things you agree with and some not. The test doesn't have the ability to tell the difference between any of these things.
7.8.2007 4:20am
Dave N (mail):
Scote,

My typing can sometimes be bad here too, but I still can't resist asking if there is also a book called "Delaware of Species"?

Overall, I want to commend you, Randy R, and others for engaging in civil, courteous debate on this issue. However, I have a problem with your "if it is not religious, you will have no problem removing it" test. The problem with this argument is that even if I do not see a religious basis for a religious symbol, I see no reason to remove it just because someone else subjectively finds it offensive--ti ne a a better example of this than the picture at issue would be the cross in the Los Angeles seal, which is clearly there as a historical artifact.

I also want to say that I agree with Reader Y's 3rd Approach. It makes the most sense. I wish I had been as articulate as he was.

Thanks to all (even those I found disagreeable) for a lively debate.
7.8.2007 10:52am
Randy R. (mail):
Thanks for answering, scote!

The analogy also fails because Darwin is not a religious figure, but a scientific one. Therefore, I have no problems with keeping the works of Darwin, Niels Bohr, Crick, Watson, Bell, Copernicus and any other scientist.

There really ought to be no confusion in our society about who is a scientist and who is a religious figure. Religionists always try to make Darwin a religious figure and evolution some sort of belief system. That's ridiculous, and more than gravity or DNA is a belief system.
7.8.2007 11:06am
Elliot123 (mail):
The Darwin argument is interesting, but I don't see anything in the First Amendment that mentions science. But, since we don't even know what religion is, this leaves the door open for traditional religions to label just about anything and everything as religion. I have heard serious people say atheism, secularism, humanism, science, making money, sex, and evolution are all religions.

I would be very interested in how the Framers would have defined religion.
7.8.2007 1:24pm
scote (mail):

However, I have a problem with your "if it is not religious, you will have no problem removing it" test. The problem with this argument is that even if I do not see a religious basis for a religious symbol, I see no reason to remove it just because someone else subjectively finds it offensive--ti ne a a better example of this than the picture at issue would be the cross in the Los Angeles seal, which is clearly there as a historical artifact.

It is not a perfect test, for certain. As ReaderY point out it is more of a test of attachment and fervor than anything else. But tests don't have to be 1 part, individually convulsive tests. Different tests add up to collection of results which is weighed to come to conclusions.

If picture of and a quote from Hammurabi were posted and people wanted to remove it because they claimed it was religious I would argue that they were idiots and factually wrong. But I wouldn't really care that much if they removed the works as long as they didn't replace it with a religious one or increase an existing religious presence by removing a competing secular one.

Back to the Darwin analogy. That fails for another reason, too. A painting of the Christian God holding the sacred Christian text, captioned with a giant quote from the same placed in a central position of prominence in a court is not analogous to a single volume of science stuffed in to the voluminous stacks of books and other ideas in a school library. In the first, Christianity receives an exclusive endorsement to the exclusion of all other religions. In the latter, a science book sits hidden in the shelves among many science books in the science section of the library. Not the same thing at all.

Now, the first thing I expect to hear is "what about a bible in the school library?" No problem, as long as it is in the religion section and receives equal placement with a wide selection of works of other religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American beliefs, Roman, Greek and Norse mythology, etc. and philosophical works on non-theism.


My typing can sometimes be bad here too, but I still can't resist asking if there is also a book called "Delaware of Species"?


No, but there is an "Origin of Spices," Darwin's less well known cookbook, including his fabulous tortoise soup recipe.
7.8.2007 2:33pm
scote (mail):
errata:
"But tests don't have to be 1 part, individually convulsive tests."

Ok, I suppose this is factually correct. Tests don't have to be individually "convulsive" :-) I suppose it might make more sense if I had written "individually conclusive." I really have to pay more attention to the spell check suggestions when I select one....
7.8.2007 2:37pm
ReaderY:
Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion" makes explicitly religious arguments, arguing that Darwin etc. "prove" that there is no God and that the idea of a God is illusory. Is this or is this not a religious work? Could it be taught in a public school? Could it be displayed in a courthouse?

When scientists preach that they know the correct answers about religious matters, why should their statements be treated any different from anyone else who claims such knowledge? Does the First Amendment contain an exception for alleged religious knowledge claimed to be derived by methods which someone (who?) deems to be correct or reliable?

Our First Amendment jurisprudence has been based on an underlying assumption that science and religion occupy distinct spheres with some overlap (and tensions resulting from that overlap) but with definite areas of exclusivity. A claim about the existence or nature of a Supreme Being has been deemed a religious claim for Establishment Clause purposes in a way that claims about the age of the earth and such have not been. If people start claiming to have answers to questions about the existence of Supreme Beigns and start occupying areas traditionally regarded as the domain of religion, why should their works, when they do this, be treated any differently from anyone else who claims to have such answers and who occupies this domain?
7.8.2007 3:16pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'we don't even know what religion is'

If somebody wants to kill you for not believing his version, it's religion
7.8.2007 3:16pm
ReaderY:
If you should find yourself emotionally attached to the idea that slavery is a bad thing, or that people should have a trial before the government shoots them, would this be evidence that these ideas are bad things for government to act on? If people are emotionally attached to something, is this evidence it's not a proper subject of government?

Is emotional attachment even relevant?

If the Framers had wanted a government in which emotion played no role, wouldn't they have called for a theocracy? Why would they have wanted government by humans?
7.8.2007 3:23pm
ReaderY:
''If somebody wants to kill you for not believing his version, it's religion''

By this definition, we could all agree the courthouse display involved isn't religion.
7.8.2007 3:24pm
scote (mail):

''If somebody wants to kill you for not believing his version, it's religion''

By this definition, we could all agree the courthouse display involved isn't religion.

No. In this case we don't have evidence that nobody wants to kill over the removal of this work since that would involve proving a nearly unrestricted negative.


Is emotional attachment even relevant?

It is if people are claiming that they are being rational rather than emotional. In that case it is proof by contradiction.


Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion" makes explicitly religious arguments, arguing that Darwin etc. "prove" that there is no God and that the idea of a God is illusory. Is this or is this not a religious work? Could it be taught in a public school? Could it be displayed in a courthouse?

First off, straw argument. Nobody has actually proposed that.

Second, actually Dawkins does not argue that science proves there is no god. Instead, he says that there almost certainly is no god. Generally, only religious people claim to know such things with absolute certainty.

The God Delusion says there is no actual evidence for god and that neither the origins of the universe nor the evolution of life necessitate the existence of a god, and that the alleged "proofs" for the existence of god are all wanting.

If a theist says "Pi = 3.000" and a scientist says, "no, you are wrong. Pi = 3.14..." Is the scientist making a "religious" argument just because the facts contradict a religious tenant? No.

If a theist says "We have proof that god exists" and Dawkins says "No. There is no scientific proof that god exists." Is that a religious argument? No. It is a scientific one.

Dawkins doesn't say there can be no god only that there is no proof for the existence any god let alone the exclusive existence of one in particular.

However, everything in its place. I don't think that there should be a "There is almost certainly no god" posted in courts any more than there should be an "In God We Trust" on money. You first. Take the "de minimus" god out of government then we can talk about whether Dawkins quotes belong in courts.
7.8.2007 4:00pm
Dave N (mail):
If a theist says, "Here is scientific proof to rebut Dawkins," is that a religious argument or a scientific one?
7.8.2007 5:13pm
scote (mail):

If a theist says, "Here is scientific proof to rebut Dawkins," is that a religious argument or a scientific one?

It would be a scientific one, but it would have to live up to the standards of science to be valid. And the theist would not get to change the standards of science as Michael Behe tried to do in Kansas. His contorted attempt to redefine science to include non-scientific posturing was so broad that he had to admit under oath that it would consider astrology to be science.
7.8.2007 5:25pm
scote (mail):
I should add, theists a are attempting to do this. First with Biblical Creation "Science," then with the thinly veiled Creationism called Intelligent Design. However, in both cases these desperate attempts to infuse religion with scientific credibility have been shown to fail scientific scrutiny.
7.8.2007 5:30pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Dave N: "If a theist says, "Here is scientific proof to rebut Dawkins," is that a religious argument or a scientific one?"

One would have to look at the evidence offered by the theist in attempting to rebut Dawkins. If it conformed to the scientific method of natural science, then it would be a natural scientific argument. However, it doesn't matter if the speaker is atheist or theist; the evidence makes the determination.

Some contend theology is the queen of all sciences, therefore theological ideas are scientific ideas. That's fine, but theology is not natural science, and that's usually what is meant by the word "science" in common parlance.

However, to refute Dawkins, one would have to demonstrate that god exists. Dawkins doesn't offer proof that god does not esist; he assigns a very small probability to the idea.

Dawkins invokes Russell's "orbiting teapot." Consider the proposition that there is a very small teapot orbiting the sun between Mars and Venus. We sure can't disprove that idea, but there is no reason to believe it, so it is assigned a very low probability. God gets the same probability. So do unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, and tooth fairies. He observes that few theists find it unreasonable to deny the tooth fairy, although they cannot disprove her flitting existence.

Dawkins does not contend there is proof god does not exist. He observes eight notions on the question. At one extreme is the claim that god absolutely does exist. At the other is the claim that god absoltely does not exist. He is one step removed from the extreme. He says he cannot demonstrate god's lack of existence, but sees no reason to believe in god, and therefore says there is a very, very low prbablility of existence. Just like those galloping unicorns.
7.8.2007 7:06pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Scote,

Under cross in the Pennsylvania case Behe admitted that astrology would fall under his definition of natural science.

In Kansas the state board of education changed the definition of natural science in order to allow for intelligent design, absence of tectonic plate movement, and a 6,000-year-old earth. That faction was voted out, and the state dropped their definition.

There appears to be a concerted attempt to inject religion into both governmen and natural science.
7.8.2007 7:15pm
scote (mail):

Under cross in the Pennsylvania case Behe admitted that astrology would fall under his definition of natural science

Thanks for the clarification. It is so easy to get various attempts to inject religion into government mixed up, be it science or jurisprudence...
7.8.2007 7:43pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'By this definition, we could all agree the courthouse display involved isn't religion.'

Not me. The fact that we live under a secular government that does not assist religion to murder heretics does not prove, or even imply, that religious believers do not want to kill heretics.

As it happens, after my Episcopalian grandfather married as second wife an Italian Catholic, he found himself an emissary to the Grand Dragon of the Georgia KKK to get them to stop threatening Catholics.

From long experience, I do not assume -- without some evidence -- that Southern Christians wish me well.
7.8.2007 9:00pm
Randy R. (mail):
Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion" makes explicitly religious arguments, arguing that Darwin etc. "prove" that there is no God and that the idea of a God is illusory. Is this or is this not a religious work? Could it be taught in a public school? Could it be displayed in a courthouse? "

Sure it can. the difference is that The God Delusion was clearly written by a man. The Bible was supposedly written by God.

There is no problem with books or texts that make whatever arguments they like, either for or against a particular religion, being held in a public library, or on display. But putting up the Bible as a book that the public should revere, authorship by God, crosses the line.

HOwever, if the Bible were put up as part of a history or literature display, then there is no problem. The crux of the matter is whether the government is asking us to BELIEVE what is written. So if the gov't wants us to believe that we are actually damned to hell if we have graven images, that is impermissible. If the gov't wants to show us that this commandment is part of a history or literature lesson, that's something different, and is acceptable.

It really goes to motive.
7.8.2007 9:01pm
ReaderY:
When Richard Dawkins claims that science is relevanct to the question of whether God does or does not exist, he is making a purely religious argument. The idea that science has any relevance to such a question is a religious idea.

When governmnet teaches what "the facts" are about religion or how those facts are to be derived, it is teaching religion. If government were to endorse the idea that science is relevant to the question of whether God does or does not exist, it would be endorsing religion.
7.8.2007 10:35pm
scote (mail):

When Richard Dawkins claims that science is relevanct to the question of whether God does or does not exist, he is making a purely religious argument. The idea that science has any relevance to such a question is a religious idea.

No. Religion makes claims about how the real world works and about being able to know factual information with certainty. Such claims can be analyzed scientifically.

Dawkins does not claim that god doesn't exist. Only a theist would make absolute claims, in their case they claim god does exist with absolute certainty. What Dawkins does claim is that there is no scientific proof of god. That is the realm of science. The idea that things can be wished into existence in spite of all proof to the contrary, well that is a religious claim.

Perhaps you should peruse Dawkins' book for more information about science and how extraordinary claims require extra ordinary proof.
7.9.2007 12:06am
Elliot123 (mail):
Dawkins says science cannot determine if god exists. I hardly see how that is a religious argument.

Teaching religion means one is trying to induce a belief in the particular religious tenets, and one is stating those beliefs to be facts.

Teaching about religion may be from a historical or anthropological perspective. It does not include an endorsement of the beliefs, but may include a refutation where such beliefs are clearly contradicted by evidence. For example, the religious beliefs of the Cargo Cults of the South Pacific are refuted by the fact that the planes were flown by US airmen, not gods.

In teaching religion, one states as a fact that Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu, and one urges the student to embrace this belief. In the second approach, one teaches that Hinduism arose in India in 4,000 BC and one of its beliefs is that Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu.

The scientific method of natural science depends on observation, hypothesis, experimentation and conclusion. One may observe nature and hypothesize that god exists. However, if there is no experiment to verify the hypothesis, it is not natural science. The recognition that such an expriment does not exist is neither an endorsement nor denial of religion.
7.9.2007 12:25am
ReaderY:
Experimentation? really? How exactly does one experiment with gods? Does one randomly create universes, in which there is a god in some but not in others?

There is only one universe; one can only experiment with it so much; at some point one has to acknowledge that in most of ones real personal life, unlike in the laboratory, one is constantly constrained to live by observing events that can occur once only and can never occur again.
7.9.2007 12:52am
ReaderY:

In teaching religion, one states as a fact that Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu, and one urges the student to embrace this belief.


That would be a miserably poor teacher of religion. A decent teacher would help the student experience Krishna as the incarnation of Vishnu, and see how this experiences alters ones outlook on life.

Only a non-believer, an outsider, would characterize the experience purely in terms of beliefs stated as propositions. A believer wouldn't regard such things as anything but the most impoverished and surface of glosses on what is being taught, something like treating a person's skin color as everything there is to say about their character.
7.9.2007 1:05am
ReaderY:
Regarding the cargo cult issue -

But a scientist observing the anthropologist (or any other scientist) could, in turn, explain the anthropologist's explanation entirely in terms of biochemical processes in the anthropologist's brain and mechanical processes in the anthropologist's muscles. If one takes the view that an ability to explain human thought entirely in terms of mechanical processes refutes explanations that refer to things outside those processes, the views from an unfortunate circularity: scientists thinking is susceptible to the same sorts of explanations as any other. To break the circularity, one has to be able to accept both mechanical and externally-referent explainations simultaneously. And if one is willing to do that, it becomes perfectly possible that the cargo gods, in their wisdom, chose U.S. airmen (at least that time) as the agents of their munificence. One explanation simply doesn't refute the other.
7.9.2007 1:36am
Harry Eagar (mail):
That is an untestable hypothesis, no different from the astral teapot.

As LaPlace said, it is unnecessary.

In the case this thread is supposed to be about, the message appears to be that if one is a Christian (or even, like Jefferson, not a Christian but an admirer of some of what he took to be Jesus' views), then one will be more just.

An odd argument for lawyers in an adversarial legal system to be making, at least in public, you would think.

Anyhow, the idea that Christian jurisprudence is 'better; is a testable hypothesis. All the evidence I know is against it.
7.9.2007 2:32am
scote (mail):

Anyhow, the idea that Christian jurisprudence is 'better; is a testable hypothesis. All the evidence I know is against it.

Goodness knows I agree that Christian jurisprudence isn't inherently better than secular jurisprudence and I think that in many cases it is the opposite. However, although you could make some sort of study you could never get a universal agreement on the definition of "better."

If one takes the view that an ability to explain human thought entirely in terms of mechanical processes refutes explanations that refer to things outside those processes, the views from an unfortunate circularity: scientists thinking is susceptible to the same sorts of explanations as any other.

This nihilistic argument doesn't really move the argument forward. The attempted implication is that nothing can be proved therefore religion is just another "valid" way of explaining reality. Science does make a few assumptions, such as the assumption that we are not merely brains in vats, that our senses generally are accurate and that there is such a thing as reality that can be objectively observed and measured. Not to accept these basic assumptions of everyday life not only makes reality irrelevant, they make religion and all other claims about, well, everything, irrelevant. So, nihilism isn't a rational argument in favor of the validity of religious explanation and certainly doesn't serve as a clever rebuttal to scientific argument.
7.9.2007 3:12am
Elliot123 (mail):
ReaderY: "Experimentation? really? How exactly does one experiment with gods? Does one randomly create universes, in which there is a god in some but not in others?"


I don't know how one experiments with gods. Neither does Dawkins. That's why natural science cannot determine if god exists. That's what Dawkins says. He makes no religious argument, simply says natural science can't answer the question.
7.9.2007 3:25pm
Elliot123 (mail):
ReaderY: "That would be a miserably poor teacher of religion. A decent teacher would help the student experience Krishna as the incarnation of Vishnu, and see how this experiences alters ones outlook on life."

It may be that there are lots of miserably poor teachers of religion. Perhaps some are of the experiental school, but there are lots of them who simply recite the doctrines.
7.9.2007 3:33pm
scote (mail):

I don't know how one experiments with gods. Neither does Dawkins. That's why natural science cannot determine if god exists. That's what Dawkins says. He makes no religious argument, simply says natural science can't answer the question.

It is a little more complicated than that. While Dawkins doesn't claim there can be no god, he also asserts that there is no scientific or logical reason to believe that any god, let alone one specific god, exists.

The burden of proof is on the theists. They claim their god exists. Unfortunately, the arguments they use for their god--revelation, perfection of the universe, presumed divinity of a book, usefulness, etc.--are arguments that can be used equally to argue for other invisible, mysterious beings who make no demonstrably defiveimpact on our world. And none of the arguments are provable and none of them could only apply to a Christian god. They are all equally as valid as a claims that invisible Unicorns exist. And they are all equally invalid and unscientific. To that point Dawkins does make a scientific claim since he analyzes these claims from whether they are scientifically provable.

As for the claim that natural science can't determine if god exists, that is true. But it is simultaneously true that there is no scientific reason to believe that any god exists and that there is almost certainly no Christian god.
7.9.2007 4:23pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Agree. Dawkins points to a lack of reasons for accepting a belief in god. One potential source of such reasons is natural science, and he says that source provides no reasons.

Those who choose to believe in god for their own reasons are certainly free to do so. However, there is no reason government should assist that effort. I have to question the confidence believers have in their ideas if they need government to spread them.

I wonder if Christianity and Islam can survive in the long run if they have no government support? For most of their existence they have had such support. If there is a version of either that can survive, perhaps now is a good time to implement it.
7.9.2007 5:03pm
scote (mail):

I wonder if Christianity and Islam can survive in the long run if they have no government support? For most of their existence they have had such support. If there is a version of either that can survive, perhaps now is a good time to implement it.

Ironically, religions survive through natural selection. Only the hardiest ones survive. In some cases, these hardy religions adapt their natural environment to suit their religion by seizing the host government and making it hospitable to their religion. Islam and Christianity both attempt to do this, though Islam does it more blatantly these days.

Unfortunately, the corollary is that more moderate religions and sects are often trounced by infestations of non native religions. Certain sects of Christianity and Islam are especially aggressive non-native religions which seek to replace the indigenous ones, whether it is Christianity inculcating Native Americans or Islam aggressively asserting itself to the Danes.
7.9.2007 7:28pm
ReaderY:
This nihilistic argument doesn't really move the argument forward. The attempted implication is that nothing can be proved therefore religion is just another "valid" way of explaining reality. Science does make a few assumptions, such as the assumption that we are not merely brains in vats, that our senses generally are accurate and that there is such a thing as reality that can be objectively observed and measured. Not to accept these basic assumptions of everyday life not only makes reality irrelevant, they make religion and all other claims about, well, everything, irrelevant. So, nihilism isn't a rational argument in favor of the validity of religious explanation and certainly doesn't serve as a clever rebuttal to scientific argument.

But if it's reasonable for a scientist to claim that any argument that attempts to reject material reality is ipso facto rejectable because it makes "well, everything, irrelevant," life must relevant as a scientist understands and values relevant to be. why isn't it equally reasonable for a religious person to argue that a claim rejecting religion would make "well, everything, irrelevant," in the religious person's conception of what constitutes "everything" that is "relevant".

The arguments involved are purely aesthetic, involving nothing more than a priori beliefs about what people personally find important to them. If it is reasonable for scientists to reject an argument as "nihilistic," because they don't like its consequences rather than any claim they don't think it valid, it would seem equally reasonable for t a religious person to make a similar a priori rejection. After all, to the religious person the spiritual world is "everything" and rejecting it would make "everything, irrelevant" in almost exactly the way the material world is "everything", and rejecting it unimaginable, to the scientist.

Scientists generally behave as if they assume people are capable of thought in a way that cannot be completely explained by purely mechanical processes. But if mechanics provides a complete explanation for "everything", how can this be so? It would seem entirely reasonable to point out the problems inherent in such assumptions and to ask people to answer to them. One can stick ones head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn't exist; one can get angry about it and call people who mention it "nihilists" and other bad names and then go back to sticking ones head in the sand; or one can be honest about the thinness of ones grip on the world one lives in.
7.9.2007 8:27pm
scote (mail):

After all, to the religious person the spiritual world is "everything" and rejecting it would make "everything, irrelevant" in almost exactly the way the material world is "everything", and rejecting it unimaginable, to the scientist.

Nihilism is a philosophical and rational black hole. If you argue that there is no such thing as objective reality than anyone is free to kill you since there is no reality they can be objectively said to be killing you in, no "real" person killing you and no "real" you to kill.

Once you invoke Nihilism you are done; you lose all claim to rational argument and I'm free to ignore any argument you make since you yourself believe there is no objective reality and no rationality. It is a self-defeating position for you to take. It is like starting out an argument saying "Everything I say is a lie" Then getting mad when nobody listens to the rest of your argument.

There is no need for me, or anyone else, to examine the rest of your argument once you have invoked Nihilism. Your argument ends there. QED.
7.9.2007 9:32pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"After all, to the religious person the spiritual world is "everything" and rejecting it would make "everything, irrelevant" in almost exactly the way the material world is "everything", and rejecting it unimaginable, to the scientist."

Good news for unicorns, tooth fairies, and leprechauns
7.10.2007 11:21am
Harry Eagar (mail):
scote sez: 'Goodness knows I agree that Christian jurisprudence isn't inherently better than secular jurisprudence and I think that in many cases it is the opposite. However, although you could make some sort of study you could never get a universal agreement on the definition of "better." '

I'd be willing to try, though not at the length a blog post is limited to. But perhaps you will agree that consistory courts that claim jurisdiction over non-believers are inherently worse than secular courts?

We abandoned consistory courts here long ago, but Christian versions existed till recently elsewhere, and a certain popular religion still claims them.
7.11.2007 1:48am
ReaderY:
scote,

You offer an argument that refutes intelligence - any kind of intelligence. Hold the argument up to the universe and it refutes universal intelligence, but hold the same argument up to any individual and it refutes individual intelligence.

You argue that the argument should not be applied to individual intelligence because it would be self-refuting, since one has to assume individual intelligence to make the argument in the first place. Fair enough. But then, why should we apply the argument to universal intelligence? The difference in outcome has nothing to do with the validity of the argument; it's based solely on whether we choose to apply the argument or not, which is based on considerations independent of the argument.


If you argue that there is no such thing as objective reality than anyone is free to kill you since there is no reality they can be objectively said to be killing you in, no "real" person killing you and no "real" you to kill.


I agree that this follows, and in essentially the same way that religious people argue that there can be no morality (etc.) without religion. We conceive of the self as having a certain structure because we cannot imagine a life worth living without it.

I'll mention that very little in the actual living of a human life is falsifiable. How can we ever know for sure if we married the right person, entered the right occupation, and so on for any number of decisions? We can't go back in time and change things. If we divorce and remarry now we're in different circumstances from what might have been then. Very little in our actual lives is repeatable. We muddle through and do the best we can.
7.11.2007 2:22am
ReaderY:
scote,

You offer an argument that refutes intelligence - any kind of intelligence. Hold the argument up to the universe and it refutes universal intelligence, but hold the same argument up to any individual and it refutes individual intelligence.

You argue that the argument should not be applied to individual intelligence because it would be self-refuting, since one has to assume individual intelligence to make the argument in the first place. Fair enough. But then, why should we apply the argument to universal intelligence? The difference in outcome has nothing to do with the validity of the argument; it's based solely on whether we choose to apply the argument or not, which is based on considerations independent of the argument.


If you argue that there is no such thing as objective reality than anyone is free to kill you since there is no reality they can be objectively said to be killing you in, no "real" person killing you and no "real" you to kill.


I agree that this follows, and in essentially the same way that religious people argue that there can be no morality (etc.) without religion. We conceive of the self as having a certain structure because we cannot imagine a life worth living without it.

I'll mention that very little in the actual living of a human life is falsifiable. How can we ever know for sure if we married the right person, entered the right occupation, and so on for any number of decisions? We can't go back in time and change things. If we divorce and remarry now we're in different circumstances from what might have been then. Very little in our actual lives is repeatable. We muddle through and do the best we can.
7.11.2007 2:22am
ReaderY:
scote,

You offer an argument that refutes intelligence - any kind of intelligence. Hold the argument up to the universe and it refutes universal intelligence, but hold the same argument up to any individual and it refutes individual intelligence.

You argue that the argument should not be applied to individual intelligence because it would be self-refuting, since one has to assume individual intelligence to make the argument in the first place. Fair enough. But then, why should we apply the argument to universal intelligence? The difference in outcome has nothing to do with the validity of the argument; it's based solely on whether we choose to apply the argument or not, which is based on considerations independent of the argument.


If you argue that there is no such thing as objective reality than anyone is free to kill you since there is no reality they can be objectively said to be killing you in, no "real" person killing you and no "real" you to kill.


I agree that this follows, and in essentially the same way that religious people argue that there can be no morality (etc.) without religion. We conceive of the self as having a certain structure because we cannot imagine a life worth living without it.

I'll mention that very little in the actual living of a human life is falsifiable. How can we ever know for sure if we married the right person, entered the right occupation, and so on for any number of decisions? We can't go back in time and change things. If we divorce and remarry now we're in different circumstances from what might have been then. Very little in our actual lives is repeatable. We muddle through and do the best we can.
7.11.2007 2:22am
Harry Eagar (mail):
'I'll mention that very little in the actual living of a human life is falsifiable.'

Oh, really? That isn't what the Baltimore Catechism says.

Although I've left the catechism far behind, I have no difficulty in, say, falsifying the Roman church's coverup of child-rapist priests.

I agree, the religious do have that trouble, but for us irreligious, it's a slam dunk.

The idea that there has to be a god to have morality amounts to a claim that god-believers are more moral than unbelievers. That would be very, very hard to support in a field test.
7.11.2007 4:03am