George Will and the Big Ten (Commandments)

Back during the period when the death penalty was regularly in play with the Supremes, Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan published standard dissents in which they very briefly proclaimed the death penalty to be at odds with the constitution.

George Will has a similar idea for what he thinks should be majority opinions in religious display cases. It’s a gem:

“Because the display on public grounds does not do what the establishment clause was written to prevent — does not impose a state-sponsored creed or significantly advantage or disadvantage one sect or sects — the display is constitutional.”

When you’re right, you’re right.

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19 thoughts on “George Will and the Big Ten (Commandments)

  1. “When you’re right, you’re right.”

    A statement that never bears any relation to George “let them eat cake” Will.

    “Because the display on public grounds does not do what the establishment clause was written to prevent — does not impose a state-sponsored creed or significantly advantage or disadvantage one sect or sects — the display is constitutional.”

    How he can say this with a straight face is beyond me. Having a huge stone carved monument dedicated to one religion and denying the validity of all other religions emplaced in a public building is undeniably an endorsement of religion.

    If you want a theocracy be honest about it. This kind of “up is down” denial of what is plainly obvious is just insulting.

  2. I’m afraid that the Founders would agree with Will virtually to a man. I don’t think you’d find a historian to rebut me on that.

  3. And? The founders were not omniscient. They were not supermen. They were just guys who had the unenviable task of creating the skeleton of a national government and who by and large did a pretty good job.

    Does that mean we are forever stuck to their views? Of course not. I doubt very much you have slaves and powdered wigs in your domicile even though the Founders would have agreed that they were very civilized.

    What the founders wanted is irrelevent to anyone but historians. The question is how we interprete our constitution in the face of our very different times and mores.

  4. Besides which the “originalist” position inevitably breaks apart when taken to such an extreme.

    The Founders never intended the second amendment to allow the bearing of anything more advanced than muskets.

    The Founders never intended us to have a standing army at all. And certainly not a Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

    To take the constitution so literally is to doom yourself to trying to recreate America of the 18th century.

  5. What I’d like to know, Tlaloc and Anonymous, is this: What is the basis for your preference for complete religious/irreligious neutrality regardless of history? Can you state one and then tell me why I should respect it?

  6. “What is the basis for your preference for complete religious/irreligious neutrality regardless of history? Can you state one and then tell me why I should respect it?”

    Certainly. The basis is to allow the people the most freedom to pursue their personal spiritual life.

    The reason why you should accept it is pure pragmatism. Choosing Theocracy is spinning the wheel. If you get very lucky it’s your religion that prospers and you can just sit back smug while everyone else suffers. If you don’t get lucky then you get to suffer the oppression while hating the smug bastards who got lucky.

    Hopefully neither of those outcomes appeals to you Hunter.

    Why on earth would you not accept a neutral government that makes it possible for everyone to believe and worship as they want? Do you really need to push your religion on others so badly?

  7. “Why on earth would you not accept a neutral government that makes it possible for everyone to believe and worship as they want?”

    Posting the 10 commandments does not impede anyone’s right to worship or believe. However, forcing Catholic Charities to pay benefits to homosexual couples does, which is a position defended by the liberal-neutral-state people.

    “Do you really need to push your religion on others so badly?”

    Acknowleding Western civilization’s religious roots in its jurisprudence is not pushing religion. In fact, those religious roots are the basis for religious liberty. After all, for Locke, Madison, Jefferson, Witherspoon, etc., religious liberty is grounded in the proper role of the state in relation to the religious community. What they gave were theological, not secular, arguments, for religious non-establishment.

    Pragmatism is the low road. Hunter should believe in religious liberty because it is good, not because its absence could be used against him.

  8. The conservative anonymous stated it very well. But my original question is still problematic, Tlaloc. You have set out freedom (and spiritual freedom) as the authorizing value. What is that based upon? Why shouldn’t a group of like-minded individuals impose their will on others? What would make that wrong?

    I’m driving at something here. I suppose you can see it.

  9. “Posting the 10 commandments does not impede anyone’s right to worship or believe.”

    Easy for you to say, are you part of a religion persecuted for centuries by the Catholic church? No? Thought not. Maybe you should hesitate before claiming what everyone else can and cannot possibly be impeded by.

    The use of public money to support a religious display that denies all other religions is inherently non-neutral and offensive to all other religions.

    “However, forcing Catholic Charities to pay benefits to homosexual couples does, which is a position defended by the liberal-neutral-state people.”

    I think private schools, churches, and charities should be able to teach whatever they want so long as they don’t get one cent of public money. Catholics can teach hatred of gays all day long so long as they aren’t doing it on my dime.

    “Acknowleding Western civilization’s religious roots in its jurisprudence is not pushing religion.”

    I agree, which is why I have no problem with the image of moses on the SCOTUS frieze. He’s presented as one of a long line of sources of law.

    Are you really telling me you don’t see the difference between that and placing a giant stone monumnet to only the ten commandments in a public space?

    “In fact, those religious roots are the basis for religious liberty. After all, for Locke, Madison, Jefferson, Witherspoon, etc., religious liberty is grounded in the proper role of the state in relation to the religious community. What they gave were theological, not secular, arguments, for religious non-establishment.”

    Neat. They were products of their time and unfortunately indoctrinated. Having the benefit of a much more comopolitan society we are in a position to understand how limited that thinking is, and how the secular arguments for non-establishment give the best result for all.

    You have to move past this ancestor worship. They were just men. Smart, but fallible men.

    “Pragmatism is the low road. Hunter should believe in religious liberty because it is good, not because its absence could be used against him.”

    Pragmatism is the universal road. Afterall Christianity implicitly says that religious liberty is bad, that only their way is allowed, and so such arguments I don’t expect to hold much sway with avowed Christians.

  10. “But my original question is still problematic, Tlaloc. You have set out freedom (and spiritual freedom) as the authorizing value. What is that based upon?”

    Simple, since spiritual matters are inherently non-provable there is no best answer for everyone, only a best answer for you personally. In the absence of a universally provable best solution each individual’s belief is perfectly valid.

    “Why shouldn’t a group of like-minded individuals impose their will on others? What would make that wrong?”

    Again the pragmatic answer works. Christianity has historically been an incredibly oppressive religion. Now christians complain of being oppressed, well as your book even says you reap what you sow. If you learn to take the pragmatic path of tolerance you can expect tolerance in return.

  11. Right, if everyone’s belief is equally valid because non-proveable, then a group should be able to organize and impose what they believe through purchase or force. That’s what you’ve endorsed. Your philosophy is a dead end.

  12. “Right, if everyone’s belief is equally valid because non-proveable, then a group should be able to organize and impose what they believe through purchase or force. That’s what you’ve endorsed. Your philosophy is a dead end.”

    You aren’t paying attention hunter, at the outset we stated that personal spiritual liberty was the highest goal. Obviously the case you make is the opposite, it is in fact what we are heading toward now: the oppression of all other faiths by one other faith.

    How you manage to critique where we are going under your preference as somehow being connected to where we’d get by mine is a bit of a mystery.

    Say it with me: “individual.” Not “group.” The group can go hang.

  13. No, no, no. This is your weak point. I’m trying to communicate with you about the larger point you are making. You are claiming a transcendent level of importance for a value for which you are unable to provide any transcendent foundation. You are completely unable to explain why anyone should honor your emphasis on the individual spiritual search.

  14. It doesn’t matter whether anyone is offended by a government’s posting of a religious screed. It doesn’t matter if a majority supports it. It doesn’t matter if the coercion is not great.

    Government does not have that right. The Constitution is offended. Majority doesn’t rule in this case. Even a hint of coercion is too much.

    There is no well of authority from which any government can claim to draw a delegation of power from citizens to act in religion. There is no such delegation in any Article of the Constitution, nor in any amendment. No state has made such a delegation, nor could it.

    I don’t think any of the founders would agree with Will. Not a one called for the posting of any religious screed. George Washington avoided mentioning the name “Jesus” in public (and in private, for that matter).

    Doesn’t anyone read the Memorial and Remonstrance anymore, or the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom?

  15. “No, no, no. This is your weak point. I’m trying to communicate with you about the larger point you are making. You are claiming a transcendent level of importance for a value for which you are unable to provide any transcendent foundation. You are completely unable to explain why anyone should honor your emphasis on the individual spiritual search.”

    When did I claim a transcendent level? I didn’t. I claimed and demonstrated a pragmatic foundation. All that remains to be seen is if people are smart enough to get it.

  16. You don’t claim it, but a transcendent justification is the only thing that would trump other personal agendas. Relativism just doesn’t work. Ask the victims of female circumcision, for instance.

  17. Most philosophers think they’re the only ones who’ve read a thing, when they’ve only got a copy on the shelves and have never had to defend it before a hostile judge and jury.

    Whatever Mr. Baker thinks, the fact remains there is no well of authority for a government to dip into to get the power to take a religious position. Corporations are faux citizens, but not governments.

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