Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sojourners Blog & Colbert’s Satire of Justice Scalia

The Sojourners website features a blog called “God’s Politics.” It has a variety of short articles not published in the magazine. I enjoy reading it when I have time.

The link below this paragraph pulls up a post from the “God’s Politics” blog that discusses Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent remarks at oral arguments in the Salazar v. Buono case, and contains a clip of Stephen Colbert’s very funny satire of those same remarks.

For those unfamiliar with the Salazar case and/or the legal issues raise by the case, a little background may be helpful.

The United States Constitution is our nation’s most fundamental legal authority. Adopted in 1791, the First Amendment to the Constitution states:

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.

(emphasis added) This one compact provision contains several distinct guarantees, but the first is commonly referred to as the “Establishment Clause” because it prohibits the establishment of a national religion or even the preference of one religion over another. The Establishment Clause was enacted due to our Founding Fathers’ rejection of the European tradition of churches that were officially sanctioned by the government. Membership in the state church was typically required to hold government posts, and was often a pragmatic necessity for acceptance and advancement in civil society. During the Colonial era, the Church of England had been imposed as the official church of the colonies. The Founding Fathers thought that approach to religion was unwise. They preferred freedom of conscience and freedom of religion instead of a state-sponsored religion. (Indeed, many social scientists point out that in societies where religion is free from government meddling, religion tends to flourish most, but where religion is supported or endorsed by the state, religious devotion tends to be much weaker.) Additional information about the Establishment Clause can be found at the link below this paragraph.

The issue of religious symbols on government property has generated a number of court cases over the years. The First Amendment guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion ensures that churches and individuals can display religious symbols on their own property. However, the Establishment Clause prohibits such displays on government property (e.g., courts, parks, etc.) because such displays are an implicit endorsement of a particular religion. The link below this paragraph provides more information about the legal issues in such cases.

The Salazar case involves a challenge to the presence of a Latin cross about six feet tall on the top of a prominent rock outcropping on federally-owned land in the Mojave National Preserve in California. The case was brought in 2001 by Frank Buono, an observant Catholic who displays a Latin cross in his own home. Mr. Buono has served his country through out his life; he is a veteran and a retired employee of the National Park Service. He brought the suit because he objected to the implicit governmental endorsement of one religion by allowing the erection of a prominent religious symbol on government property. While the case was pending, Congress designated the cross as a war memorial to honor World War I veterans. Additional information about the Salazar case can be found at the link below.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Salazar case. At that time, Justice Scalia made several comments that seemed to diminish the religious significance of the cross and insinuate that the cross was merely a secular symbol. The Sojourners “God’s Politics” blog post above criticizes Justice’s Scalia’s comments and includes Stephen Colbert’s comical satire of Scalia’s denial of the religious symbolism of the cross.

Parenthetically, in interviews, Colbert has professed to be a man of faith. He is a practicing Catholic and has taught Sunday School.

John 19:17-18, 30, 20:11-16 (New American Standard Bible)

They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher).

1 Corinthians 1:17 (New American Standard Bible)

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

Colossians 1:20-22 (New American Standard Bible)

And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.

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