Religion Poisons Everything (Even the Law)

I suppose I should not have been surprised by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in a recent case before the court involving a wrongfully convicted African-American accused of murder, who, by writ of habeas corpus (what is known as an "extraordinary remedy" because it avoids claims that adjudicated issues are not to be relitigated), proved himself fully innocent of the crime for which he'd been imprisoned. In effect, Scalia, joined in his dissent by Clarence ("Is-that-a-pubic-hair-on-my-Coke-can") Thomas, said that if a guy gets a fair and impartial trial, he should not at a later time be allowed to prove his innocence and avoid a life in prison, or in states with capital punishment, death by execution.

Alan Dershowitz wrote an essay about the opinion for one of the internet news sites pointing out that Scalia's pronouncements were not only pig-headed and wrong, they were in clear violation of the religion to which Scalia is such a slave: Catholicism. The Roman Church, he pointed out, tolerates state murder by execution in rare cases but, generally speaking, is anti-capital punishment and probably would be appalled by Scalia's writing for the minority. Dershowitz also mentioned that Scalia has said that he is such an ardent Catholic that were he required by precedent to follow a law that conflicted with his faith, he would have to resign from the court.

This simply begs the question: how many cases has Scalia decided by applying what he sees as Catholic principles? And if he knew he would have to resign if those principles were in conflict with established law (what we call stare decisis), shouldn't he have made this clear to the U. S. Congress prior to his confirmation? In effect, he lied about his religious convictions. How can he sit on any case involving, say, abortion -- even if it only tangentially touches upon the issue -- when he is so avowedly anti-Roe v. Wade and so rabidly anti-abortion? Why would the Congress wish to confirm a person bringing such deeply seated religious convictions to the Supreme Court (a lifetime job) if there were the slightest chance a vacancy would be created in the event of his consciencious departure from the Court? John F. Kennedy said he would leave his Roman faith outside the Oval Office. Why can't Scalia leave it out of chambers?

In a word (or two), whatever happened to the doctrine of separation of church and state? Yes, I know, evangelicals are currently on a campaign to convince Americans that the doctrine never existed in the first place; that since it cannot be found in the Declaration of Independence (a "Christian document" a local John Bircher has put it), the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, it doesn't exist and never did. But just as an earlier Court found a right to abortion in the First Amendment, precedent has establshed that the same addendum provides for a wall between organized religion and government. I suspect that Scalia is a closet separation "myth" ideologue and would love nothing better than to see the Fifth Commandment enshrined in abortion law.

But of course all politics is local, and as an attorney I witness, almost weekly, intrusions of religion into the courts of my state. For example, during a revocation of probation proceeding a few days ago, I saw a young criminal defense lawyer call to the stand a Christian outreach woman who works with miscreants in attempts to "bring them to God." She was called because the advocate wished to prove to the court that his client was a changed man. When he asked the outreach worker if she had noticed any changes in her ward in the wake of attempts to turn his heart to Jesus, she replied as follows:

"He used to be a very violent person, by his own admission. Recently, someone stole his undershirt and boxer shorts, and rather than blow up in anger like he used to, he simply went back to his cell and prayed the prayer I taught him: 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' And within a few minutes someone brought back his shirt and someone else brought his shorts back, too."

First, even if this were true, it proves nothing. The streets are full of thieves, rapists, and murderers who "got Jesus" in jail or prison and got the Devil oncee they got out of stir. Second, the poor woman clearly fell victim to post hoc reasoning, which I hope was not lost on the court. Just because the hapless lout prayed to "God" does not necessarily mean that this caused the other two inmates to return her ward's undergarments. After this, therefore because of this: the fly in the ointment of every claimed "miracle." Third, if such testimony actually did influence the judge, he, too, is a fool.

Wiliam S. Burroughs was wont to say, "Pray in one hand, shit in the other; see which one fills up fastest." How sad that our judges even entertain such nonsense in their courts.

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Comment by Jim DePaulo on August 20, 2009 at 3:19pm
Agreed. There is nothing in the Constitution that would prohibit Congress from establishing term limits for all "lifetime appointments".
Comment by Sam Chapman on August 20, 2009 at 2:26pm
Those two are why Supreme Court justices should have a term limit, say 10-20yrs w/ maybe a second term if voted for by the Senate. The maximum of two 10 year terms should be enough to keep a stable court and allow for the worst to be removed within a reasonable amount of time.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on August 20, 2009 at 1:12pm
How can these guys be so smart and so stupid at the same time... it baffles me?
It's easy when you are an ideologue. Besides, Thomas is Scalia's sock puppet - Thomas being an idiot.



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