Monday, July 02, 2007

Week in review: Jn 24-30

There's not a whole lot over the past week that I felt strongly compelled to post about. There were a couple of reviews of "Evan Almighty" that I'll expand on once I see the movie. My fear is that either the movie panders too much to the religious crowd or it over the top mocks religion to its face. I'll reserve judgment until I see it. I hope it proves me wrong like its predecessor, "Bruce Almighty" did.

I also have some updating of links I want to do that I'll probably use my day off on the 4th to work on. I'm still learning when it comes to formatting and such and I don't want to make this too busy but at the same time I want certain sites to be a click away whether or not they're specifically relevant to my blog.

The big news of the week was the Supreme Court handing down 5-4 decisions in three cases relevant to our lives as public Christians. One of my roadblocks to blogging regularly is that I want to do enough research on issues that I don't make a complete fool of myself in what I write. The consequence of course, is that by the time I get around to doing that whatever I was going to post about to begin with is old news and there's a new topic worth tackling. That was the case with these decisions. I'm no legal scholar and I wanted to know more than what I was reading in the news. But the more I read the more confused I got and the opinions I was going to post started to change in ways I didn't like. So I'm going to keep it simple, both for your sake and mine.

The first case concerned a student who held a banner reading, "Bong hits 4 Jesus." The argument was that schools are legally drug-free zones and that while students have free speech when it comes to politics or religion, they do not have the right to promote illegal activities. This makes sense as schools are allowed to adjust dress codes to address gang-related fashion for example. A student can't go to school wearing a t-shirt with a gun on it, or with a naked woman. The risk of this decision however, is that it explicitly calls out speech that promotes illegal activities. If you've followed the news the last year or so, there are efforts out there making religious speech, specifically with regard to homosexuality, "hate speech." If these laws were to pass, then this ruling would extend to such speech. Not necessarily a bad thing, because few things make my blood boil more than people who call themselves Christians yet will hold signs saying, "God hates fags." But there are many on the left who feel that any religious expression, especially in a taxpayer-funded school, is illegal and some district-level courts have agreed. If it goes that far then Bible clubs, group prayer outside of the classroom, evens such as "Meet Me at the Pole." could then be curbed at the whim of a particular school's administration. To take this further, this could also then apply to Muslim women wearing head-coverings as another example. I'm not sure I agree with the decision on these grounds. But for now, the Bill of Rights still protects the free expression of religion despite the mythical separation of church and state.

Speaking of the separation of church and state, another decision was 5-4 against an atheist group suing the present administration over advocating faith-based initiatives. I'll concede that President Bush's goal to promote faith-based programs treads a very fine line, but I believe that the intentions are honorable and not a ploy to promote a particular religion. In context, AA was formed with a strong religious foundation and many will drop coins for the Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmas time without considering that the Salvation Army is actually a church denomination. But I digress. The ruling stated that the administration's action did not cause harm to the taxpayer and they had no legal standing to bring the case forward. An example of what this means would be an anti-war group suing the government over defense spending. The reason this particular case got as far as it did was a previous ruling in a case called Flast vs Cohen that made an exception for religious spending. Yet this ruling limited Flast to "earmarks" or spending on specific programs promoting religion. President Bush speaking at a church encouraging applying for federal grants is not an appropriation bill authorizing that x-number of dollars goes to y-specific church. On that, I agree with their ruling. In one of the discussions I read on this case, they worry that the exception I noted differentiating between an appropriation by Congress and an endorsement by the Executive branch sets a dangerous precedent that the Executive branch isn't held to as strict a standard as Congress. To this I disagree (without wholly understanding the opinions by the Justices) because like I said, President Bush (or anyone in his staff) never told Congress to authorize spending on a particular church or even a particular program. If a president wants to speak in a church, it should be his right.

The last ruling involves spending on "issue ads" prior to an election. These are ads that are not sponsored by a particular candidate or party, but rather special interest groups. Therefore they don't explicitly fall under efforts to reform campaign finance. Why this is relevant is the ad in question was by a pro-life group and never said to vote against a particular candidate, but rather called to account his voting record on that subject. Personally, I prefer these ads to the mud slinging candidates throw at each other. I'd rather see an ad describing someones views and voting records rather than something obscure they did 30 years ago. The risk of this decision however is it opens a door for a lot of corruption. What's to define an "issue"? Would the Swift Boat ads count as an "issue ad?" Not to mention the choke-hold special interest groups (the dissenting opinion calls out unions and corporations specifically) have on politics. Since money is spent on these ads, it should be able to be regulated as commerce. If someone wants freedom of speech in campaigning, write a letter to the editor, or an op-ed piece. Or for that matter, start a blog and you'll get lots of attention. (See the recent defeat of anything resembling immigration reform) So I'm on the fence on this one. It will be up to future Courts and future decisions to make this more clear.

So if you're not completely bored by now, let me sum up. We as Christians need to follow what goes on in our government. Not just by our elected officials, but also our courts. We need to be aware of what could infringe on our ability to express our faith publicly. For these three cases, with the same split in the decisions, on the surface it looks like a shift to the right for the Supreme Court. But on closer examination, at least one if not two, of the decisions run the risk of biting the Religious Right in the behind after making such a big deal in the last presidential election over court appointees. I guess it goes to show, be careful what you wish for.

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