Thanks to Beware of the Dogma (through Atheist Blogs Aggregated) , I have been made aware of the fact that the House of Representatives has passed the "Christian Supremacy Act." This is a law that effectively repeals prohibition on governments establishing a religion, by giving them the option of making it too expensive for anybody to protest violations of this right.
I discussed this law a few days ago in the post, "The Moral Case Against the Christian Supremacy Act." (By the way, I stole the name from DailyKos.) That post contains my argument for believing that the law is basically unjust and immoral - that even if it were not unconstitutional to pass such a law, it is still unjust and immoral to do so. Recall that, in this blog, I do not write about what the law does and does not say. I argue about what the law should and should not say.
The purpose of this posting is to discuss the strategy that Beware of the Dogma stated in presenting this news. They state that if this bill should become law (it still has to pass the Senate), the next thing to do is to wait to see if the courts will restore justice by declaring the law unconstitutional.
To be fair, Beware of the Dogma was not writing to discuss strategy. I am arguing against anything they said. I am writing only about a strategy that would be consistent with their postings that, nonetheless, would be a very poor strategy to adopt.
Waiting for the courts to declare the law unconstitutional is one of the most foolish and reckless tendencies practiced among those who claim to be interested in defending the separation of church and state.
Here is what will happen:
There will be a series of trials as the case moves up the court system - a series of trials that will take years to complete.
With each trial, if the judge should render a verdict opposed to the law, unjust religious groups will send out fundraising letters complaining about how 'liberal activists judges' are destroying the rights of believers to practice their faith. Tens to hundreds of millions of people will hear a message that the law is meant only to prevent governments from being intimidated from perfectly legitimate acts by the fear of a costly trial in which they might have to pay court costs.
They will use these mailings to collect hundreds of millions of dollars that they will use to further spread their message to more people. They will also coach those people into voting for candidates who will promise to fill the courts with judges who understand that our rights come from God and that worshipping God in the public square is the only way to protect us from His wrath (hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and the like).
Because of these political maneuverings, we have no reason to believe that the Supreme Court will, in fact, declare the law unconstitutional. In the amount of time it takes the case to make its way through the court, we might have a court filled with people who actually believe that local governments must be protected from the fear of citizens seeking the protection of their First Amendment rights.
Okay, it does not make sense to use that anybody could believe such a thing. Yet, clearly, people who can believe the contradictions and absurdities that are to be found in most religious interpretations are not going to have trouble interpreting the First Amendment as saying, "Atheists shall not be permitted to impose their anti-God hatred on local governments by exploiting fear of expensive lawsuits."
If the Supreme Court does declare the law unconstitutional, then the perpetrators of religious injustice will send out another set of mass mailings, collect a few hundred million dollars, that will be contributed to candidates who will make sure that those 'liberal activist judges' are replaced by people who understand the Constitution's true meaning.
Even if the law is never reversed, society will be seeped in a doctrine that promotes vicious hatred of anybody who dares challenge a government statute that aims to establish a religion. We will live in a society where few citizens will be willing to tolerate the hatred and abuse that will be heaped upon anybody who dares stand up and say that governments shall not become tools for the Church to use as it sees fit.
Detainees and American Values Revisited
The same points can be raised about the bill that made it through the House recently that allows the President to order any person arrested and held in jail indefinitely on his say-so alone. I have read about people who are now talking about waiting for the Supreme Court to assert each person's right to hear the evidence against him and to respond to that evidence, and of the obligation on the part of the accuser to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Yet, by sitting back and waiting, others have an opportunity to use the years that it will take these cases to go through the courts to assert over and over again how the liberal courts are destroying our security. They will use this as a call for donations which they will use to urge their followers to elect politicians who respect the importance of appointing justices who will back the doctrine of unchecked executive power.
Responding to the Threat
The answer to this problem is not to wait for a court case, but to use the law itself as others would use it against us, as an opportunity to teach others about the basic principles of justice and morality so that they can see the basic injustice written into such a law. We need to create, to whatever degree it is within our power to create, a culture who will cheer the decision that the law is unconstitutional, and who would condemn those who would dare to treat fellow citizens as unjustly as this law says they are to be treated.
In other words, NOW is the time to tell the country - your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, your family - how the 'religious right', who claim to be paradigm and virtue, do not understand the basic principles of justice. Now is the time to tell them how the 'religious right', who claim to get their morality straight from God, seem to think that this morality means forcing the victims of a crime to pay for the wrongs done against them - like forcing the family of a murdered girl to pay the government to put her killer on trial. This, apparently, is a cornerstone of the right-wing concept of 'justice.'
The goal, then, is - to whatever degree possible - to create a country that will cheer when the verdict comes back that this law is unconstitutional, because the people have been brought to realize that forcing the victim to pay to bring the person who violates his rights to justice is an immoral and unjust law that should never have been written to start with. Then, the effect of all of the fundraising and propaganda that will be certain to pour out once the decision is made will be blunted, as much as possible.
This is not an activity that lends itself either to total success or total failure. Rather, it is a matter of degree. To the degree that one's actions create a culture that hates the injustice represented by this law, to that degree the ability of the religious right to collect money and votes when (if) the courts report that injustice will be thwarted. This is, in fact, an instance when every action one takes will have some benefit. Even if you are unable to convince a single person yourself, you will help to create a culture - an environment - where injustice will have to struggle a little harder to survive.
The ultimate point is to convince enough people what justice requires and to train them to act justly, so that the unjust lack power and innocent people will not be made to suffer their crimes. People are not being persuaded as long as good people sit back and say, "I'm not going to say anything. If I speak up, they might yell at me, so I'll just sit here and say nothing and hope that the Courts take care of the issue."
That's not useful.