»  National Review Online

August 25th, 2003

  Affronts and Provocations

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You have to excuse me. I'm a new American, not yet quite up to speed on national attitudes and approaches to things like, oh, Constitutional jurisprudence. Any time one of these church-state controversies blows up, I read the arguments pro and con, scratch my head a bit, then pull out my handy Cato Institute pocket edition of the U.S. Constitution, and try to figure out what all the fuss is about.

In that noble document, I read the following:

Article VI:  … no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

A bit further on I read this:

Amendment I:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

Far as I can see, that's pretty much it. I mean, that's all the U.S. Constitution has to say on the topic of religion.

Well, as I said, these things come up in the news once or twice a year, and each time it happens I pull out my Constitution, read those clauses, and ask myself, about whatever situation has come up: "Is a religious Test being required as a Qualification to some Office or public Trust under the United States?" Then I ask myself: "Is there any indication, sign, hint, or smidgeon of evidence here that Congress is attempting to make a law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof?" And guess what, gentle reader: in every case, in every single blessed case to which I have applied these tests, the answers have come up plain as eggs: No, and No.

So it has been with this flap over Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments monument. SCOAL, like its big brother SCOTUS, has nine justices altogether. The other eight have overruled Chief Justice Moore on the monument, a 4-foot-high, 5,280-pound slab of granite with the Commandments clearly inscribed on it, set in the lobby of the State Supreme Court building here. They say the monument has to go. Alabama's attorney general Bill Pryor says so, too, though with regret, and some words of support for Moore. Pryor is up for a federal judgeship. He's having trouble getting confirmed because he's a conservative and a Christian, and Senate Democrats hate conservatives and hate Christians. Apparently in no mood to make things even worse for himself, Pryor has said that while he personally can't see anything wrong with "Roy's Rock," this is not a proper occasion for civil disobedience; and that even if it were, a Chief Justice is not the proper person to take the lead in such things.

Like other church-state stories, this one sailed easily through my pocket-Constitution test. Nobody has suggested that Roy Moore is lobbying Congress to pass a law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; nor does it seem that he demands those state officers under his control to recite the Nicene Creed as a condition of getting or keeping their jobs. Case closed. That slab of granite in the lobby? What about it? What harm is it doing?

Let's see what Roy Moore's opponents have to say, as to why they think the rock is illegal. Judge Myron H. Thompson of the Federal District Court, who has been presiding over the case, said that Roy's Rock is "nothing less than an obtrusive year-round religious display." So it is; but obtrusive year-round religious displays in state courthouses are prohibited in the Constitution … where? Martin Redish, whom the New York Times describes as "a Northwestern University law professor," extruded the following: "It's quite clear that the Ten Commandments are being used as a clear message of governmental support for a religious institution." Which institution would that be, Prof? The Church of Moses?

Now you may, of course, say that the Ten Commandments monument will give offense to someone or other. I can't fathom why anyone — other than dedicated polytheists, idolaters, blasphemers, and so on — should take exception to the Ten Commandments per se, but given the petroleum-vapor flammability of American sensibilites in this day and age, when "you people" is considered to be an insult of staggering audacity, and telling a woman she is pretty is more or less equivalent in law to stomping on her face with cleated golf shoes, I feel sure there are indeed people who will take offense at the Decalogue. So what? There is no Constitutional right to be preserved from offense, even when passing through a government building.

I myself, for example, take grave offense when I walk into the passport office on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and see all the signs directing me here or there in English and Spanish. Don't you have to be a citizen to get a passport? And is not a citizen either native-born or naturalized? And if native-born, has the citizen not attended American schools, with instruction in English? Or if naturalized, has he not been tested for English proficiency as part of the naturalization process? Who, then, are these passport applicants who need directions in Spanish? No-one can tell me, and I am severely offended thereby, though I believe that I shall probably survive the offense with mind and body intact. This is not a trivial example, either. The underlying issue here is far graver, of far greater moment to the life and future of our country than anything happening in Roy Moore's courthouse. Perhaps I should get the ACLU on the case. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

What is really going on down in Montgomery is, of course, another battle in the bitter, hate-filled (never thought I'd find use for a lefty phrase like that — watch out for "mean-spirited") war against Christianity. One of the principal features of American life, which jumped out at me at once when I came to live here, and which I have observed with fascination ever since, is the seething, foam-flecked detestation that large sections of U.S. society feel towards Christians and their faith.

You see this all the time. You saw it in the John Ashcroft nomination hearings, when an op-ed piece in USA Today — written by the paper's former Supreme Court reporter — asked incredulously: "Can a deeply religious person be attorney general?" (A mere forty years ago the sub-editor would have inserted an "ir-" in front of "religious," for fear that otherwise the question would make no sense to readers.) You see it in the endless stalling of approval for Christian nominees by Democratic senators. (If I were George W. Bush, my next nominee for a federal judgeship would be the most passionately devout Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian or Muslim I could find. Then I'd sit back in front of the TV and watch Chuck Schumer's head cave in.) And you see it in the horizon-to-horizon buffalo stampede beneath which is trampled to death any elementary-school teacher temerarious enough to ask her pupils to say a prayer for the country in time of crisis.

A lot of this is just naked snobbery. Some more of it is Jewish anti-Christianism. (All right, all right, I know we're not supposed to talk about this, but isn't it true? Lots of Jewish Americans are brought up to associate Christianity with pogroms, discrimination, and the atrocities of the Crusaders. Naturally they're anti-Christian.) Some of it is special-interest opportunism: pro-abortion and homosexualist zealots, for instance, see devout Christians as enemies to be defeated and humiliated whenever an opportunity arises. Some small part of it, I will grudgingly allow, may be actual principled belief in the idea, as wrong-headed as it seems to me, that U.S. law absolutely forbids any association whatsoever, in any shape or form at all, between government and religion, that latter term defined as broadly as it possibly can be.

I should like to make a modest suggestion. I think I am the right person to make it, belonging to neither of the fiercely interested parties. I am a Christian, and therefore obviously not one of the Christ-hating party. On the other hand, I am not a fundamentalist or an evangelical. In fact when I say anything in my columns about religion, I generally manage to tick those people off, and bring down on myself a hailstorm of scathing, scornful, or pitying e-mails. (Let me tell you, you have not plumbed the full depths of the phrase "holier than thou" until you have written about your own observances on a conservative website.) You could say I am reasonably impartial on this one. So here's my suggestion.

Huge numbers of Americans are Christians who take their religion very seriously indeed. A Gallup poll last December found 46 percent of us describing ourselves as evangelical or born-again Christians. That a lot of Americans, very nearly half. A lot of really good citizens, too. I mean, though I don't have numbers on this, it seems to me a pretty solid bet that any index of personal or social dysfunction you care to name — crime, delinquency, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, AIDS infection — is way lower among that 46 percent than it is among the other 54 percent.

The United States of America in this year of Our Lord 2003 is, I venture to observe, not so abundantly endowed with patriotism, good citizenship, self-restraint, marital fidelity, teen chastity, the spirit of communal self-help, and willingness to educate one's own children, that we can scoff and sneer at a group that embodies those virtues in far higher concentrations than can be found among, say, law professors, or Hollywood megastars, or U.S. senators.

So here is my suggestion to Judge Myron H. Thompson, Northwestern's Professor Pointyhead, Chuck Schumer, the ACLU, and all the rest of the Christ-purgers:  Leave Christians alone. They are your fellow citizens — and, as citizens, better than average. Stop insulting them. Show a little respect. Stop enraging them. Stop picking on them.

I am generally cautious about finding malign motives in the actions of thoughtful, respectable people. The more of these church-state kerfuffles I read about, however — and it came to mind in the recent noise about "gay marriage," too — the more I get the feeling that a lot of the driving energy behind modern liberalism is the desire to affront and provoke Christians. If I am right about this, I'd like to ask liberals: Why do you want to do this to your fellow Americans? Why the affronts? Why the provocations? Is there really some issue here so momentous that it is worth your creating all this rancor and division? What actual harm is Roy's Rock doing to any American? What, actually, is your point?

As I started out by saying, I am no authority on jurisprudence. It may be, for all I know — I really can't see it, but it may be — that there really are sound Constitutional grounds for your never-ending campaigns to scrub every last jot and tittle of religion from our public places. But just take a look at our country.

There is a war on: people who hate America are working day and night to destroy us. Just a few months ago they murdered three thousand of us, and brought down two of our noblest buildings. Manufacturing jobs are long gone, and middle-class paper-shuffling jobs are following them fast. Public-sector unions are pillaging our state treasuries to fund their 50-90 programs (retire at 50 on 90 percent of your salary). Meanwhile, trial lawyers are chewing their way like termites through the private sector. We have 13 million illegal immigrants scoffing at our laws and helping themselves to the welfare provisions that citizens have spent their lifetimes funding through taxes. Two million of us are currently in jail, and the one-eighth of our population that is black supplies one-half of those inmates. Our education systems are collapsing under absurd demands that "no child be left behind" — everyone must be above average! — and hundreds of thousands of citizens have fled those systems in disgust to school their kids at home. Our universities are in the hands of nihilist ideologues who hate their own nation, culture and ancestors. The political system has seized up, impossible-to-cut spending programs crashing head on into impossible-to-raise tax rates. Drop a cigarette butt into some power generator in Cleveland and you can shut down the north-eastern U.S.A. for a day. A North Korean nuke has been smuggled across the Mexican border and hidden in a filing cabinet on the 102nd floor of the Sears Tower. (I made that up, but if it hasn't actually happened yet, it won't be long.)

And action to deal with all these problems is massively hindered by the fact that we can't even talk about them in public for fear of being branded with one of the half-dozen modern equivalents of the scarlet letter — "racist,"  "nativist,"  "elitist,"  "profiler," and the rest of the idiot schoolmarmish cant we hear from the guardians of our public virtue.

In short, we are going to hell in a handbasket here, and all you liberals can think of is to jab your finger in the eyes of 46 percent of your fellow citizens over some footling dubious point of Constitutional law? Just ask yourselves — please, please, ask yourselves: Is Roy's Rock really a proper target for my zeal, my energy, my passion, my money? Is my reaction to it in any kind of proportion to any harm it might conceivably do?

A hundred and forty years ago, one of the giants of British politics was the social reformer and big‑L Liberal William Ewart Gladstone. The mathematician Augustus De Morgan caused some mild hilarity in London by pointing out that the great man's name was an anagram of "WILT TEAR DOWN ALL IMAGES?" Is that — tearing down all images — actually the program of modern American liberalism? Does it not occur to you liberals, not even for a passing instant, that by purging all sacred images, references, and words from our public life, you are leaving us with nothing but a cold temple presided over by the Goddess of Reason? — That counterfeit deity who, as history has proved time and time and time again, inspires no affection, retains no loyalties, soothes no grief, justifies no sacrifice, gives no comfort, extends no charity, displays no pity, and offers no hope, except to the tiny cliques of fanatical ideologues who tend her cold blue flame.