Monday, November 10, 2008

Suing God; a clevery crafted secular humanist red herring

This article deals with a lawsuit by a Nebraska State Senator ordering an injunction against God for the "death, destruction and terrorization” he has and will continue to cause. Reading the brief quotes by the plaintiff and given his status as a State Senator, it seems fair to assume that he is not a schizophrenic who believes God is out to get him, but instead more likely believes that “God” (presumably of the “Judeo-Christian” variety) has no place in public life. The Court ultimately ruled that they could not serve an injunction against someone who does not have an address to have papers filed against them. While I agree with the ruling, its justification is very strange, and the laughable nature of this case and verdict makes it easy to overlook a very serious movement taking place in America.

While this article can easily be chalked up in the humor column (and from any perspective it is a bit humorous/ridiculous), there are some more serious issues here which should not be overlooked. The first is the plaintiffs claim that the court had acknowledged the existence of God, and the ruling, silly as it may seem on its face, amazingly seems to confirm this, since it rules that the individual in the suit does not have a place of residence. This ruling actually seems quite poorly thought out, and ignores previous precedent and the free exercise clause. My opposition to this suit would be primarily on these two fronts, rather than the ruling that God does not have an address, a verdict which equals the suit in the magnitude of its ridiculousness, and quite frankly, stupidity. The first, as we have noted in such cases as Watson v. Jones, is that it is not the role of the Court to decide theology, and it would certainly be a theological decision for the Court to decide what “God” has or has not caused (though it would to an extent be historical, the text of the Bible or political acts attributed to God have been an issue of constant debate, and as theologians like James Cone have noted, God has more or less always been contextualized, and perhaps even made to serve the needs of the times). Further, and more seriously, if some type of injunction were placed on “God”, this would seem to be a flagrant violation of free exercise, since “God” (whether or not they exist) is not a human, let alone an American citizen in any traditional sense, and one cannot realistically place an injunction on a figure whose actions (should this figure exist) cannot be determined. Since this restriction would be left open to particular legal and political figures interpretation and could easily outlaw masses, Bibles, communion, and various other forms of observances associated with Christianity/Judaism/Islam, I cannot see how one could realistically argue it does not violate free exercise.

Overall, it seems that yes, the case was laughable, but was more a cleverly thought out red herring than serious suit against “God”. Chambers probably knows full well that such actions are by definition impossible, since an actual legal injunction against God would not and could not do a thing. At the risk of being Bill O’Reilly-esque, this case does point to the fact that there are individuals out there who are serious about removing God from public and even private life, and will take very clever action to do so (important to note the distinction between government decisions and public life). And while the verdict in this case (though its reasoning was poorly thought out) was predictable, it is important to note that it may take only one court to issue some sort of non-sensical injunction to send free exercise out the window.

1 comment:

Brittanie P said...

I have to wonder Drew, what line of action the court could have taken that would not be establishment? If they rejected the case for its facial ridiculousness, they would have established, in some eyes, that God was not real enough to litigate against; but now that they did accept the case and spun the reason rendering it impossible to a tangible space (the action I feel you are arguing against) you seem to feel as though they confirmed God's omnipresence and thus established a belief in God. Please correct me if this is not what you are arguing. In both cases though, a religion is established and thus both violate the constitution. So what is the court to do? I argue that freedom of exercise and freedom of establishment cannot co-exist at all. In fact, I believe freedom from establishment is damn near impossible. We have to create a continuum of establishment and allow the court to fit within that because ultimately they cannot not establish a position on religion. I think this Senator is clever and ridiculous for making a mockery of our legal system.