Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

"This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws...of rights and responsibilities...of proper civic order..."

                           Irish Secretary of State Enda Kenney

"Which is more important to you, (sic) the Bible or the US Constitution?"

                           Facebook post earlier this month

In 2011, the Irish government excoriated the Vatican for allegedly attempting to block the investigation by the civil authorities of child abuse by clerics.  The church was told in no uncertain terms by a righteously indignant, I mean no pun, Enda Kenney that the civil law prevailed when it came to the safety and protection of children.  Of course, the negative pregnant in Kenney's remarkable (by Irish standards) pushback to Rome was that civil law was primary in all matters involving "rights and responsibilities" and "proper civic order."

I thought of the words of the Taoiseach (look it up) when I saw the above-referenced post on Facebook.  

For some people, everything is a zero-sum game.  Right and wrong.  Black and white.  

Which is more important to you?  The Bible or the US Constitution?  

One wonders what is going on out there that would prompt someone to ask such a question.  One can sense a certain paranoid construct in which such a question can live and do well.  A law may be constitutional but it might also be contrary to the Bible.  Or to a particular reading of the Bible.  In that case what?  Your personal morality trumps the civil law?  Indeed, there have been laws passed in a couple of states that say just that. 

And the most famous example of this theory was the decision by county clerk Kim Davis not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because to do so would offend would allegedly offend her deeply held religious beliefs.  

I prefer a more nuanced approach to the post to the extent a) the Facebook poster is serious and b) it is even a question.  

To borrow the wonderful phrase from Stephen Jay Gould, the Bible and the US Constitution serve different magisteria.  The Bible concerns matters of spirituality and morality.  The Constitution and the laws passed pursuant to it concern "rights and responsibilities" and "proper civic order." They are accorded primacy in that realm as the United States, like Ireland, is a republic of laws. 

And by the same token, the law protects the typical exercise of the believer's faith.  I can attend the church of my choice.  I can send my kid to a parochial school.  Conversely the law protects my freedom to play golf on Sunday instead of going to church if I so please.  Further, while I am free to believe or to not believe, I do not have the unfettered discretion to act on those beliefs.  My deeply held belief that the use of marijuana is integral to the practice of my religion is no defense if I am being prosecuted on a dope charge.  

Just for the record, I am a Methodist.  We do not smoke grass in church.  I raised a hypothetical.  I'm a lawyer.  We do that.  

So why am I making a big honking deal out of gibberish on Facebook?  Because it seems a lot of our national discourse about serious things takes the form of posts on Facebook or through tweets on Twitter.  But everything can't be a zero sum game.  Serious questions cannot be resolved in a sound bite. 

I talked about the post in question with one of the history teachers at school the other day.  Here's our response.

Which is more important to you?  The Bible or the Constitution?

Our answer is "yes."


Sunday, September 04, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

A buddy of mine sent me this picture yesterday.  The house in the picture is not too far from where I live.  In fact, I recognized it from the times I have gone past cutting through to Mississippi Avenue or Leawood.  The rather, shall we say, aggressive, signage was not observable when I went by it the other day.  So this must be a fairly recent bit of home decoration.

Now let's get something out of the way right off the bat.  The owner of this house has every right to put any kind of political stuff on his house or yard as he sees fit just so long as it doesn't violate any zoning regulations pertaining to such matters.  It's his or her First Amendment right to do it.  And what he chooses to advertise is pretty much his business and means nothing to me other than I must note that he evidently went to some trouble to do it.  So there is no doubt in my mind that he is earnest in his beliefs.

The notion that Hillary Clinton should be in prison is a recurrent leitmotif in the political discourse on the far right hand side of the dial.  Those who allow their paranoia to fully blossom into full flower rather view her continued freedom to be "proof" that the system is rigged. Further, if Donald Trump is defeated in the race for the White House, which seems likely, some of these folks that subscribe to this notion will view at further "evidence" that the fix was in.  Indeed, Mr. Trump has said as much.  

As far as I can tell, the reason that Hillary should be locked up has to do with her handling of the Benghazi tragedy during her tenure as Secretary of State or for her use of a private email server to conduct classified government business.  Never mind that the Benghazi situation has been investigated to a fare-the-well by the Congress with no criminal referrals. And, while the FBI found that she had handled classified material in a careless fashion it declined to make a criminal referral either.  

And, as far as I can tell, there is this notion that because of these defaults on her part, or combination thereof, Hillary Clinton is guilty of treason.  I have even read where some Trump supporters have expressed the opinion that she should be either shot or hung for this reason.  

I make reference from time-to-time to the fact that I was horribly miscast last winter as an American history teacher.  I do this because it is was one of the more singularly profound, if not holy, experiences of my life.  That, and the boys and I spent many an afternoon discussing the issues of the day which included the Presidential primaries on both sides.  The "Hillary is guilty of treason" thing popped up occasionally but not often as most of the kids were Rubio supporters in those days.  

This was a teachable moment.  Especially since this discussion about treason popped up about the time we learning about the treason trial of Aaron Burr.  I am as neutral as Switzerland when it comes to politics in the classroom.  However, I made no particular secret of my fondness for Aaron Burr in those days. 

After all, you have to admire somebody who tries to fix a Presidential election-talk about rigged-, survives two duels one of which was with the Secretary of the Treasury who he plugged, attempts to get both France and England (and Mexico if I remember correctly) to attack the United States, and when they all refused did it himself.  This latter episode landed him in hot water with Thomas Jefferson, who had very little use for Burr in the first place mainly over the fixing-the-election-thing.  

And so, being a lawyer, I beat my classes over the head about what the Constitution of the United States of America says about treason. Because treason is a crime and crimes are defined in the law and not what 2 guys in a bar might think.  

Article III, Section 3 says "Treason against the United States,shall consist ONLY in levying war against them, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort...(emphasis supplied)."  As I told my classes back then if they didn't go to bed that night with these words ringing in their ears then I had not done my job.

So while whatever alleged misdeeds committed by Hillary as Secretary of State might have been the result of negligence, miscalculation or plain dumb bad luck, the don't amount to criminal acts according to the numerous investigating bodies that lucked into them.  And they sure as hell weren't acts of treason.

And so I say to the owner of the house depicted above what I said to a kid the other day.  If you truly believe that Hillary Clinton's conduct in the discharge of her duties as Secretary of State disqualify her for the Presidency then you have the duty to walk into that voting booth and proudly make your ballot against her.  That is your sacred right as an American and that decision is between you, your God and nobody else.  

But she ain't guilty of treason.  Because treason consists ONLY of levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies.

Neither was Aaron Burr as it turned out.  He was acquitted by none other than John Marshall who presided over his trial for reasons that remain unclear to me since he was a Supreme Court Justice.  Anyway, President Jefferson was rightly incredulous when Burr got off because Aaron Burr was about as guilty as he could have possibly been without a youtube video depicting him and his band of rebels floating up the Mississippi being entered into evidence.  Afterwards, Jefferson wrote an irate letter to Justice Marshall in which he inquired, in so many words, if Aaron Burr could walk under those facts, what did it take to get found guilty of treason around here? 

History is silent as whether Mr. Jefferson got a response.  

I judge it to be a dangerous fantasy to impute criminal liability for political acts or for acts nominally taken within the course and scope of one's authority under the law.  When people running for office suggest as much, it is irresponsible.     

As for me, I am counting the days until this election is over and I can watch sports with the sound on again.