Good week for God at the Supreme Court

For those keeping score, this is a good week for God in the American legal system. Or perhaps a better … Continued

For those keeping score, this is a good week for God in the American legal system. Or perhaps a better summary would be that it is a bad week for knee jerk anti-religionists.

Evan Vucci

AP

FILE – In this April 9, 2010 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

In the past few days, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear two cases dealing with the ongoing struggle between those who seek freedom of religion and those who seek freedom from religion. In both cases, those in the former camp were the clear winners.

In the case of Badger Catholic vs. Walsh, the court refused to hear an appeal from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which hoped that the justices would overturn a decision that obligated the university to fund a campus Catholic group just as they fund all other campus student groups. The university had withheld funding on a variety of grounds, including the claim that funding Badger Catholic would breach the wall between church and state.

When that argument failed, the university persevered, but to no avail. Having established a “no questions asked” approach to funding a whole variety of student groups, the court found that they had no right to suddenly ask questions when, and only when, religion was involved.

In other words, the court told the university that while they had the right to construct guidelines regarding how they fund student groups, they could not make hostility to religion the only guiding principle. Catholic or not, religious or not, anyone who appreciates that such hostility is always wrong will welcome this decision.

Similarly, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the case of Newdow vs. Lefevre, which featured fanatical atheist Michael Newdow in yet another attempt to have the words ‘In God We Trust’ removed from U.S. currency. While I have no great need to see those words on our currency, and would not mind their disappearance from it, this is another case which was turned away because it is based in hostility instead of law.

Mr. Newdow’s claim was that by using money which bears those words, he was being forced to participate in spreading a religious message against his will. Lower courts had already ruled that using money with the word God on it had no theological or ritual purpose, so Mr. Newdow had no case. In refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court sends the message that was a good enough answer for them, and let the matter drop.

As in the Wisconsin case, the court’s response is one for which we should be grateful, whether we are God-oriented or not. Why? Because in refusing to hear either of these cases, the court reminded us that when it comes to religion, we all should have the right to absence of presence, but that we should not compel the presence of absence.

Our system assures us that nobody should ever be compelled in matters of faith, including the compulsion which comes, even if unintentionally so, from any form of state-sponsored religious preferences, including the preference of religion over no religion at all. That assurance is, forgive me, a sacred one – one of which we should be proud and upon which we ought never to compromise.

But being free from any undesired presence of religion is not the same as assuring the absence of religion, even from the lives of those who would choose it. In refusing to hear these cases, the court reminded us of that distinction and preserved a greater measure of freedom for all by doing so. So I guess it really is a good week for all of us.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • TexLex

    >Lower courts had already ruled that using money with the word God on it had no theological or ritual purpose,

    If not those purposes, why is capital G God there? Just kind of a random acausal thing that appeared on the money ex nihilo?

    If it hadn’t been “God” but, say, “Yahweh” or “Ahura Mazda”, would that still have had no implication of theological or ritual purpose?

  • LDimin

    What is it about the /english language justices of the Spreme Court of the United States do not understand. Tne First Amendment to the Constitution clearly states in simple American English, “CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAWS RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXECISE THEREOF . . . . . .” There is no greater establishment of religion that “God”, and since Congress is prohibited from making laws regarding that establishment, any law so passed is patentlty unconstitutional – unless tyo are a justic of the Supreme Court of the United States and put your religiopus beliefs above the law ans Constitution.

  • LDimin

    What is it about the ?English language that is so difficult for justices of the Supreme Court of the United States to understand? The First Amendment to the Constitution plainly provides, “CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, NOR PROHIBIT THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF . . . . … ..” What, other than “God”, is a greater ewstablishment of religion – it is common to to most religious faiths, but it is prohibited by the Constitution to constitute a part of any law.

    If a justice cannot separte his personal religious beliefs from his duties under the law, he/she should do the honorable act and resign.

    James Madison, father of the Constitution, said, “The number, the industry, and the morality of the piesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestlty increasee by the total separation of the Church from the State.”

  • acebojangles

    This story represents an unwelcome departure from the usual balanced, reasonable writing Mr. Hirschfield regularly supplies.

    I’d like to know some background on the University of Wisconsin Catholic group that was denied funding. How inclusive are they? Do they welcome non-Catholic students, homosexual students, etc?

    I don’t see why Nednow’s supposed hostility toward religion is relevant. If he brings a first amendment suit, the law governs, not his personal feelings. How is “In God We Trust” not a religious sentiment? It goes beyond even a simple acknowledgment of a higher power (which I would also find objectionable) and says that we, which includes me as a US citizen, trust in that God. Why should the government be able to make that claim on my behalf? Also, would Hirschfield, faux news, etc feel the same way about this challenge if our currency said “There’s No God For Us To Trust”?

  • EAHarrison

    Your description of Mr. Newdow as “fanatical” clearly shows your bias against Mr. Newdow. He’s an atheist — no need to add a pejorative adjective.

  • ThomasBaum

    EAHarrison

    You wrote, “Your description of Mr. Newdow as “fanatical” clearly shows your bias against Mr. Newdow. He’s an atheist — no need to add a pejorative adjective.”

    This “perjorative adjective” (fanatical), as you put it, could very well be Brad Hirschfield”s opinion of Michael Newdow and he is entitled to his opinion and he may have thought that his opinion piece would have been less if he would have excluded what some seem to take offense at.

    fanatical:

    motivated or characterized by an extreme, uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.

    enthusiastic, zealous, frenzied, rabid. See intolerant, radical.

    surpassing what is normal or accepted in enthusiasm for or belief in something; excessively or unusually dedicated or devoted

    Some people seem to think that that “fanatical” can only be used in conjunction with those that believe in God.

    Some people also seem to think that “fanatical” is “perjorative, whereas somewhere down the line it may come to pass that the so-called “fanatic” was simply speaking the simple truth.

    I would think that there were many of Jesus’s day who thought that Jesus was a “fanatic” but was He?

    Or was He just Who He claimed to be?

    I say that Jesus was/is God-Incarnate and that God is a Trinity and that God is a Being of Pure Love.

    Would this make me a “fanatic” or simply a messenger.

    Take care, be ready.

    Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • JUSTACOMMENT

    @ThomasBaum

    “Would this make me a “fanatic” or simply a messenger.”

    Both. Also a delusional.

  • JUSTACOMMENT

    @ThomasBaum

    “I say that Jesus was/is God-Incarnate and that God is a Trinity and that God is a Being of Pure Love.

    Would this make me a “fanatic” or simply a messenger.”

    Both. Also a delusional.

  • WmarkW

    How come commenting is disabled on most of the articles?

    Is the Post’s three-day window being applied here?
    A lot of our articles stay up a week with active commenting.

  • YEAL9

    Every week is a good week for Rabbi Hirschfield:

    The Rabbi is the one of the presidents of the non-profit National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. As per the on-line IRS Form 990 (guiderstar.org), the rabbi is paid $331,708/yr. The co-president Rabbi Irwin Kula makes approximately the same salary. The office manager Dale Brown makes over $100,000/yr as do six other directors and administrators. Net assets for 2008 were over $8 million with over $3 million invested in US Treasury bills.

  • RCofield

    “…this is a good week for God in the American legal system.”

    I was unaware that God had bad “weeks…”

  • Huxley1

    “Our system assures us that nobody should ever be compelled in matters of faith, including the compulsion which comes, even if unintentionally so, from any form of state-sponsored religious preferences, including the preference of religion over no religion at all.”
    It does so only by redefining the religious compulsion we all endure (“In God We Trust” on our money and in our courtrooms; “Under God” in our classrooms, religious holiday displays in public parks, etc.) as non-religious. Have the Bureau of Engraving and Printing spend a day printing dollars that say “In Allah We Trust” and see how many Americans would agree that “that using money with the word [Allah] on it had no theological or ritual purpose.” They would be no more offended than I am daily by having to use our religious currency. If it has NO religious meaning, then why was it put there in the first place?