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Religion and the Rule of Law


by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK and Consultant in International Law


The United States has been transformed from a nation believing in liberty and freedom, into a nation reflecting those it rejected at its formation -- a nation with a state religion, with its adherents considering their leader anointed by God. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech -- the rule of law -- and all that made America great is being submerged by the state religious truth. What does this mean for America and indeed the world?


Reader response appears following the article -- or click here to go directly to the comments.

I have always admired the documents creating the United States of America. Although historians have pointed out that the commercial reasons for the American Revolution were in fact far more important that the altruistic ones, the fact remains that those altruistic pronouncements have impacted the world. The concept, for example, of “We the People” was downright revolutionary in a world that believed in the divine right of Kings. Now, the Americans did not invent these concepts – the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution drew heavily on the English scholar of the previous century, John Locke, and – heaven forbid given American attitudes today – from Montesquieu, the French scholar.

America based itself on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These were not idle words. People who faced degradation and persecution were, in the early days of America, welcome. And America was welcoming – unlike their old country, there was no tyrannical state religion and monarch ruling. You could be what you wanted, without persecution. No wonder America received huge waves of immigration until the door closed in the early 1920s.

The Bill of Rights, which in fact were amendments promised when the original Constitution was ratified, formed the basis of these freedoms.

The first amendment to the Constitution, constituting the start of the Bill of Rights, covered freedom of religion, speech, assembly and petition without official prohibition. This amendment read as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

However, the concept of freedom of religion did not prevent, in the eyes of some scholars, the encouragement of one religion over others. An eminent mid-19th century American scholar and Harvard Law School professor, Joseph Story, put his views as follows in his 1833 landmark commentary on the Constitution:

''Probably, at the time of the adoption of the constitution and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.''

The object, then, of the religion clauses in this view was not to prevent general governmental encouragement of religion, of Christianity, but to prevent religious persecution and to prevent a national establishment.

Professor Story's interpretation has long since been abandoned by the Supreme Court, beginning, at least, with Everson v. Board of Education, in which the Court, without dissent on this point, declared that the Establishment Clause forbids not only practices that ''aid one religion'' or ''prefer one religion over another,'' but as well those that ''aid all religions.'' In the same vein, in 1802 President Jefferson wrote a letter to a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, in which he declared that it was the purpose of the First Amendment to build ''a wall of separation between Church and State.''

On my recent trip to the United States, it became abundantly clear that America has moved away from President Jefferson and Everson v Board of Education, and more to the viewpoint expounded by Professor Story.

As one letter to a national newspaper by a college instructor stated,

“[if] the author [of a book] … is simply a member of a non-Christian religion, he or she is deemed ‘anti-American’ by students”.

This college instructor was clearly talking about people who wrote other letters to the same newspaper, for example:

“early citizens and leaders of our nation realized they had an obligation to…honour God…many have misinterpreted the First Amendment…I believe that President Bush is a sincere, Bible-believing Christian…”.

Never mind that the founders of the United States believed the basis of the country should be secular, to the point of not having a Christmas tree on the White House grounds. History clearly has been rewritten.

Moreover, many of the latter group of Americans were on television, saying the George W. Bush “has been anointed by the Lord as our President”. As well, on the Interstate highways, interspersed among the huge (and small) crosses on the roadside, and the countless “Jesus” billboards, was one “thanking the Lord for George Bush”. Clearly, if you disagree with Mr. Bush you are committing a religious sin. What ever happened to freedom of speech – and freedom of religion? I have never seen a democratically elected leader considered the anointed by God. They are people, and people are not omnipotent. So much for America rejecting the concept of ‘divine right’.

When polls show that Mr. Bush won on ‘moral values’, the reality is much stronger than that.

He won in states where I could not find a non-Christian radio station on my car radio.

He won in states where I found extreme Christian tracts left in the room by the hotel management.

He won in states where there are billboards stating, “One mind, one faith, one religion”.

He won in states where these very wealthy, strong religious groups owned all the gas stations and the hotels.  In fact, you could quite easily fill your fuel tank and witness the Christian faith to the minister resident at the stop.

Prior to my visit, I read about a major American television network facing boycott because they were showing Steven Spielberg’s  patriotic film, “Saving Private Ryan” on November 11, which is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. The boycott lobby considered the film anti-American. I have seen this movie, and yes, I am not an American – but I saw nothing in it that could be considered anti-American. Or maybe, because the famed Producer was not of the fundamentalist Christian faith, the film was therefore ‘anti-American’? I did not understand the boycott until I visited America this time. Now I do.

The threat to the rule of law is great from this new, state religion. Quoting the Everson case protecting religious freedom to the adherents of this religion would only bring condemnations of the ‘liberal’ Supreme Court. In fact, a major goal of this new religious tyranny is to change the Supreme Court to fill the seats with their Stepford associates. Advocating for the fundamentalist Christian religion gives you rights; dissenting gives you none.

The pre-eminent Judge on the Court, Anthony Scalia – George Bush’s stated ‘favourite model of a judge’, shows evidence of this attitude. Justice Scalia publicly dressed down fellow Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg for speaking to Justices of other countries. Justice Scalia justified his actions by stating that American Justices only need American ideals, not foreign opinions. Foreign opinions, I suppose, such as John Locke and Montesquieu?

There are other threats to the rule of law. The Republicans won the election – and their associated radio and television commentators constantly want to deny any dissenting voice, under the logic that if you lost the election, you have no right to comment. What ever happened to freedom of speech?

As I have always stated, as a non-American, I take no side in their politics. Nor am I against adherents to a religious belief. When, however, I see basic freedoms eliminated in the cause of a state religion, I am frightened by the prospects for America and the world.

Many around the world have condemned George W. Bush for his policies. Yet on my visit to the United States, it became clear that Mr. Bush simply reflects the views of his constituency – a constituency that puts religion ahead of the values that made America great. Values such as freedom and liberty – values that I have always admired – are disappearing. The rule of law is disappearing in America under the new state religion. Yet in his Inaugural address, Mr. Bush promised to bring freedom to the world.

Does bringing freedom to the world mean submission to the new American state religion? This prospect places good, decent countries in a vise between two fundamentalisms.

Maybe Mr. Bush should deal with the threats to democracy, freedom and liberty at home. That is unlikely, given the fundamentalist Christian groups want their agenda implemented – now, not later – given their electoral, God-given, and God-anointed victory.

Whither America? Whither the rule of law? Whither freedom?

I humbly ask these questions of the new state religion ruling America, a religion that has reversed what America was at its inception and through the centuries. 

Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK and Consultant in International Law


Your thoughts? 

Reader Response:

From Bonnie B., Colorado USA

Yes, our Bill of Rights is being trampled on with impunity!  Thank you!
However, it is not because of the power or influence of the religious extremists, but because Bush has an agenda and is using the religious right to give his time on the throne a legitimacy it would not have otherwise.  Bush is not a Christian.  This is a part of his "legend".  Anyone can claim any religion.  I can claim to be a Hare Krishna...but merely saying it does not make it so.  Check into his background; you will uncover some interesting facts as to his real beliefs...or lack thereof... 
The more you look into who the real Geo. W. Bush is, and what he is doing, the more frightened you may become.  And since our two countries are, and always have been, so 'joined at the hip', so to speak, I fear that your country will be pulled into the flames along with us.

I strongly believe everyone should be more aware of events that are taking place, and why; not merely in America or Iraq, as the entire planet is being pulled into a dangerous situation from which there will be no peaceful exit. 

Your efforts to alert people, and be a voice for the truth are greatly appreciated.
Please write more on this, and soon.
Oh, and I voted for Nader!

Your thoughts? 


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