It seems that each new day brings new evidence that too many Americans haven’t the foggiest idea what’s in the U.S. Constitution or what its provisions mean.
Exhibit #1: the large cross erected on public property in Dugger, Indiana. The huge cross with “Jesus Saves” prominently printed on it has been challenged by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The town fathers–evidently recognizing a loser when they see one–agreed to move it rather than spending tax dollars on expensive and hopeless litigation. But residents are up in arms. My favorite quote came from the fellow who said people who were offended could just look elsewhere.
How much do you want to wager that he’d feel differently if the symbol on public property praised Satan? or Allah? or Karl Marx?
This is a recurring battle. As the courts routinely point out, the rules are pretty clear: government cannot sponsor or endorse religion. Government cannot sponsor or endorse atheism, either. Government must stay neutral when it comes to the expression of political or religious beliefs. Allowing a religious symbol on public property is an impermissible endorsement of that religion–exactly the sort of favoritism the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment forbids.
This sort of conflict is easy enough to resolve. Move the cross to private property. People will still see it. Folks who reject this relatively simple fix are really giving away the game–no matter what they claim, they don’t just want people to see their message. They want government to endorse their message. They want special status and recognition for their religious beliefs.
Exhibit #2. Micah Clark. Again.
The AFA has its panties in a bunch–as usual–because the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is considering opposing the mis-named “Marriage Protection Amendment.”
Why oh why would the Chamber “want to see marriage unraveled and destabilized” in Indiana? Micah wants to know. Here’s a clue, Micah–that “destabilization” hasn’t happened anywhere that same-sex marriages are legal. Quite the opposite, in fact–Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to recognize same-sex unions, has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country.
Leaving aside the hysterical rhetoric and tortured “evidence” in the AFA’s Weekly Email, one sentence leapt out at me: “It is the people of Indiana who should decide on marriage.”
No, Micah, it isn’t.
In our system, we don’t get to vote on other people’s fundamental rights. We don’t get to vote to segregate black people, we don’t get to vote against interracial or interfaith marriages. We don’t get to vote to abolish jury trials, or to override restrictions on search and seizures. We don’t get to vote to make people Baptists or Episcopalians.
Justice Jackson said it best, many years ago, in West Virginia Board v. Barnette:
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
Maybe you don’t agree that people who are different from you should have the same civil liberties and rights that you enjoy. Fine. Don’t agree with it. But it is the law of the land, and you really ought to know that.
I wonder what new evidence tomorrow will bring….