Sheila S. Kennedy

By Their Priorities Shall Ye Know Them

Filed By Sheila S. Kennedy | August 26, 2007 9:51 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Media
Tags: Christian beliefs, First Amendment

One of my favorite blogs is Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Ed Brayton, the "Dispatcher" has a talent for punctuating hypocrisy and cant. In a recent post, he illustrates (as if we needed additional evidence) the intellectual dishonesty at the root of so many efforts to use government authority to impose right-wing Christian beliefs on the rest of us, in defiance of the First Amendment.

Brayton discusses an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, upholding a lower court decision that forbid the Gideons from coming into 5th grade public school classrooms to distribute bibles.

The court ruling was entirely predictable. When I was director of Indiana's ACLU, we had a case almost identical to the one considered by the 8th Circuit, and even then there was an unbroken line of cases holding such efforts improper. What was most galling about both of these cases was that in each one, the school board had ignored the advice of their own lawyers and others who had warned them that the conduct was unconstitutional. As Brayton noted, there is a difference between what he calls "mundane" and "virulent" ignorance--what I would call real and intentional ignorance.

There are examples of this everywhere. Here in Indiana, our prior Speaker of the House--a lawyer who surely knew better--courted the right wing of his party by opening sessions with very specifically Christian prayer, despite clear Supreme Court precedent disallowing that practice. When a court ruled (predictably) that he couldn't continue doing so, he claimed the decision was an aberration by an "activist" judge.

Many years ago, when I was in City Hall, I was asked to testify to a council committee that was considering an ordinance to ban rock concerts in the city's parks. The ordinance was fervidly supported by a south-side minister who believed such music was sinful. He was in attendance, and when I explained that the government could not favor some messages/musical genres over others, he stood up and yelled "My bible is more important than your constitution!" I've never forgotten that incident, because it was revealing in so many ways. It was his bible. He owned God, righteousness, whatever. It was my constitution, not his.

At the end of the day, too many of these conflicts are not good-faith arguments over constitutional interpretation, "original intent" "strict construction" or judicial "activism." They are revealing snapshots of our different priorities. For some of us, citizenship means an obligation to accept the "rules of the road," to live within the constitutional framework. For others, those rules are merely a roadblock, to be evaded or changed when they conflict with--or inconvenience--promotion of their specific religious beliefs or practices.

It's a matter of priorities. In the fundamentalist's value structure, their bibles are more important than our constitution. They don't misread the Bill of Rights. They disregard it.

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Thanks, Sheila, for sharing these experiences. At least we can say the minister was being candid and honest when he yelled, "My Bible is more important than your Constitution!"

I'm sure Bilerico readers may be figuring out that some of my posts repeat themselves like a broken record (the old, flat, vinyl 78RPM kind): A particular faction of the conservative Religious Right, that faction that wants the US government to endorse Christian principles, is the current Number One Enemy to the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.

This is the faction that Andrew Sullivan has called "Christian-ists" --- and Christianists are presently the largest and strongest group of subversives, foreign or domestic, to the US Constitution. (Remember that oath that our President took when he was sworn in the last time? To defend the Constitution against what? Ha! What a laugh! ... Can't anyone in Congress mouth the word "Impeachment"?)

I don't mean to sound like a broken record --- but this warning is so important to our future freedom that it deserves to be over-communicated.

Can you imagine the riot that would precipitate if a group of Muslims appeared to distribute copies of the Koran to all our public school students? Or if Hindus arrived to distribute copies of the Bhagavad Gita? The Christianists would come running with their Second Amendment-protected shotguns!

He was in attendance, and when I explained that the government could not favor some messages/musical genres over others, he stood up and yelled "My bible is more important than your constitution!"

Be still, my spinning stomach.