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October 13, 2005

On religion and the Supreme Court ...

The conversation about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers' experience didn't last long, since there's so little to talk about.

The conversation about her long relationship with President Bush is somewhat meatier, but it's trailing off.

Front and central now is her religion, to a degree that I'm thinking is unique in our history. For this office, religion is largely irrelevant. Presidents and senates have, until now, treated it as such.

The reason for that is succinctly explained by Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who is arguing for the confirmation of his friend Miers. He's said in various forums that "... she is pro-life and she has been for 25 years."

That does not mean, he adds, that she would vote to overturn the landmark abortion rights case Roe vs. Wade. "Legal issues and personal issues are just two different things. Judges do it all the time. ... you have to set aside your personal views in deciding the case." (Transcript)

Justice Hecht's assessment of judges' conduct is generally correct, I think. The nation's judiciary, now and in the past, has on the whole found its guidance in the law books rather than in personal beliefs. That's as it should be, in a country with founding documents providing that civil and religious issues be kept separate.

Founding documents aside, the impulse toward theocracy has always run strongly through our politics. It has manifested itself in ways ranging from the burning of witches through the old ``blue laws'' forbidding the conduct of business on Sunday to today's insistence that creationism be taught in the schools -- all ways to use the civil law to enforce the tenets of religion in general or of the majority religion in particular.

The theocrats' underlying justification, of course, is that the nation simply would be a better place is we did it their way.

But would the nation be better? Those of us who instinctively love Mr. Jefferson's wall of separation don't think so.
There also are new grounds for doubt, given the results of a groundbreaking study by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, who reported his findings in the most recent issue of the Journal of Science and Religion, published by the Center for the Study of Religion at Creighton University in Omaha.

In brief, Mr. Paul did a statistical analysis using figures from 18 democracies, including the United States. His chief finding: The greater the percentage of people in a given country who absolutely believe in God, the greater that nation's social dysfunction as measured by rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, abortion and child mortality.

The United States in general has more absolute believers than other countries, and correspondingly higher rates of dysfunction. The correlation holds true even among the states, Mr. Paul writes.

He hastens to point out that "correlation is not cause" and that his study is "a first look" at a complex issue. Still, it is a first look we all should take at a time when the theocrats have many friends in high places.

Our president wears his religion on his sleeve. He has declared his support for creationism in the schools. His minions, the leaker Karl Rove in particular, are privately urging political activists of a religious bent to focus on a Supreme Court nominee's religion. The president himself says Ms. Miers' religion is an important aspect to be considered by senators as they decide her fate. His party attacks the judiciary in general, most viciously when some judge follows the law rather than the dictates of Tom DeLay's conscience. Remember Terry Schaivo?

We are at a point when our top leaders talk of God with a frequency and intensity that is unmatched outside the Muslim world -- and when Muslim leaders talk openly about God and God's will, we brand them extremists and terrorists because their God seems to think we and our God should get out of their part of the world.

It is no time for rallying around the theocrats. "Religious" is not a qualification for the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush does neither his nominee nor the country a favor by elevating that issue to the top of the list.

Posted by jcb at October 13, 2005 03:03 PM


As I watch all of this unfold I am starting to think two things:

1. W appointed Ms. Miers to give himself an inside person on SCOTUS. He knows now that when Al Gonzalez brings cases in (like the Oregon case) he has an advocate, etc.

2. W nor any Republican is really interested in overturning Roe v. Wade. I think some Christian conservatives are now realizing this after these last two nominations and that is now why we continue to hear about Ms. Miers' faith.

I think when politicians in general and neocons in particular wear their faith on their sleve, it's more or less smoke and mirrors. It really works in the best interest of this administration to keep this culture war alive and kicking. Let's assume they put it to bed by stacking courts with social conservatives. Roe v. Wade gets turned over, marriage keeps the narrow definition, the government can keep people in a vegetative state alive for no real reason, etc. The "values voters" who have been odd-bedfellows with the neocons will quickly realize, after getting what they want, that their economic best interests are better served by moderates and left of center moderates from both parties. One of the reasons I, a Democrat, love Senator McCain is because he denounces this interplay between faith and politics (and has taken flack for it).

So I guess my long-winded point is I think all of this talk of god by our powers-that-be is a sham.

Posted by: tiz at October 13, 2005 11:08 PM

Our best clue about Ms Miers is the person who appointed her. Our only hope is that he is bringing the right wing to the supreme court just as he is bring freedom to Iraq.

Posted by: anon at October 15, 2005 06:40 PM