Note: This is another short story; a technique that I sometimes find useful in illustrating a point. However, unlike my previous stories, I fear that a sizable segment of the American population can read this and think, ‘Yeah! Sure! That makes perfect sense!”
It’s a frightening thought.
The Witch's Trial
James Ross placed his electronic notebook on the podium and looked up; way up, because the justices of the Supreme Court sat behind a long desk on a raised platform. He had been here many times before. In fact, he had advised Presidents who selected some of these men to sit on the bench. As a result, he felt the comfort of a man among friends.
This was not a time for timidity. This was an opportunity. The cameras that the Supreme Court had recently installed were ready to broadcast his words around the world.
The green light told him it was time to start.
"Honorable members of the court," he began, in a well rehearsed voice. "I can present my argument in simple terms -- so simple, in fact, so as to make it obvious beyond any doubt. The First Amendment to the Constitution says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Our religion – the religion on which this country was founded -- states, ‘Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.’
The defendant, Ms. Abigale West, has been found by the people of my state to be a witch. Forcing us to suffer this witch to live bars us from practicing our religion. Since the government may pass no law prohibiting the free exercise of our religion, the government can pass no law requiring that we suffer this witch to live. The argument is as simple as it is plain.
“Indeed, Ms. West’s refusal to show up for her burning is an insult to all Christians in my state. By her action, Ms West says to the world that our religion does not deserve the protections given to is in the Constitution. By her action, Ms West is endorsing a few that Christianity is wrong. If the government sides with her, then the government itself will be saying that Christianity is wrong. This is something the government may not do.
"When our founding . . . "
Chief Justice Thieste interrupted. "Mr. Ross. Clearly, if the state allows you to burn Ms. West at the stake, that would have some adverse effect on her practicing her religion."
"Honorable Chief Justice, witchcraft is not a religion. It is a practice, like dentistry or carpentry. It is a seditious and evil practice. It is a practice that goes against God. It is not a religion. Ms. West voluntarily took up this practice. She did so in the full knowledge that the people of our state had instituted the biblical punishment for witchcraft. As such, she has voluntarily chosen her own fate."
Ross paused, giving Chief Justice Thieste a chance to respond. However, the next Justice to speak came from the most recently appointed justice, Ronald Williamson. “Mr. Ross, the Constitution also grants freedom of the press. Yet, we do not assume that this is an absolute right. We have prohibitions against libel, against slander, against revealing government secrets, against inciting violence, and against the famous example of yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater. The Constitution's guarantee that you may practice your religion certainly was not meant to give you the right to kill non-members."
"You are quite correct, Justice Williamson," Ross answered. "Of course there are limits. However, those limits are defined by the Bible. We execute murderers, because our bible tells us to take a life for a life. We imprison thieves, because our Bible tells us that thou shalt not steel."
With a click of a button, Williams' notes suddenly changed. "Judge Williamson, your question gives me an opportunity to bring up an important point. The people in my state passed an Amendment to our state constitution authorizing the burning of witches. Until we passed that Amendment, those who called themselves witches were free to walk among us, talk to our children, and turn them against God.
We took this action because these people were threatening the moral character of our children. These people were threatening the very moral fiber of our community – without which no community can survive. There is a reason why God commands that we must not suffer a witch to live. God is no fool."
Chief Justice Thieste spoke up. "Clearly, none of us here believe that our job is to determine the proper interpretation of scripture and to force that interpretation on the people in your state, Mr. Ross. Freedom of religion means that you have a right to determine your own interpretation.”
“Correct,” said Ross. “And, remember, freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. Ms. West’s right to freedom of religion does not give her freedom from the majority commanded by God not to suffer a witch to live.”
Ross pressed another button on his electronic notebook. "Your comments bring me back to my original argument. The government may not interfere with the free exercise of religion. Our religion tells us not to suffer a witch to live. We have no freedom to practice our religious beliefs if the state compels us to suffer a witch to live. Any attempt to interfere with our efforts to burn a witch, because of our religious beliefs, has to be taken as an attack on Christianity itself."
The yellow light on the podium came on, warning Ross that he had only five minutes left. He flipped a tab that took him to the end of his notes. "Honorable Justices, as you know at the end of the last century Christianity was under siege in this country. Anti-Christians had gained power and denied us our Constitutional right to practice our religion. They banned us from the schools. They banned us from the public square. They denied the very essence of our Constitutional freedoms.
"Fortunately, that era came to an end. Presidents who respected the framers’ original intent kept their promise to appoint judges such as you who recognize that our rights came from the Christian God. We have been able to stop the moral slide and reverse it. We have outlawed the murder of unborn children, instituted the death penalty for homosexual acts, and banned all work on Sunday, just as the Bible commands.
“Yet, some claim that we are still required to suffer a witch to live. If we are not required to suffer a homosexual to live, then how can there be any argument against the requirement that we suffer a witch to live? This prohibition on the burning of witches is simply one of the last holdouts of 20th-century thinking. My argument is simple. The Constitution grants us the right to practice our religion. We practice our religion by executing witches. Therefore, this injunction against burning witches should end.”
The red light came on just as Ross finished the last word in his statement. He shut his notebook off and said, "I thank you for your time," then returned to his seat. He would have a good night's sleep tonight.