In fact, and I shudder to type these words, but I think it was even kind of...well...a good speech. Downright, dare I say, presidential. There were no blatant missteps or openly outrageous statements, and it struck just the right tone of sympathy, responsibility and determination.
Did it make me forget the innumerable other bullshit he said in the leadup to it, like his frat-boy rattlings about Trent Lott's fantastic new house or his party-time days in Texas? No. Do I actually think he'll even remotely come through with all these pledges to help the poor and heal the racial wounds of the past? HA HA HA hell no. But as a speech...it was pretty good.
David Limbaugh, Rush’s less talented brother (and take a moment, won’t you, to contemplate how truly depressing a position that must be) has made his name, such as it is, championing the absurd notion that Christians are a persecuted minority in these United States, and that there is a ruthless and almost entirely successful campaign under way – spearheaded by liberals, bureaucrats and, I don’t know, Stalinists or something – to systematically remove the Lord of Hosts from the American skies.
Of course, it’s pure nonsense – this is far and away the most Christian nation on the face of the planet and has been since the Spanish Inquisition ended, and the further designation of most religious nation on the face of the planet only eludes it by the fortuitous persistence of places like Israel and Iran. And even if Christians did become a minority in America – who cares? I’m not a Christian, and neither are millions and millions of other fine American citizens. The character of a nation changes over time; that’s the way it is, and a country run by intelligent, forward-looking leaders will simply design and preserve institutions that will guarantee a continuity of culture and governance that can withstand such inevitable demographic shifts, as have any number of European nations. (Ask the Poles sometime if it’s possible to survive as a nation if your racial, religious and social makeup is in flux; ask the British, ask the French.) Even the Vatican seems less obsessed a sovereign state than America in terms of always insuring the Christian faith is at the forefront of the culture.
None of that stops Limbaugh, though, who sees every removal of the hand of God from the glove of State as a further peal of the funeral bells of Christendom. His latest reason to weep for the dried and forgotten blood of Jesus was the decision of district court judge Lawrence Karlton that the practice of mandatory recitals of the Pledge of Allegiance in school violates the establishment clause.
Watch how Limbaugh takes a page from neo-conservative patron saint R.M. Nixon, by claiming he is not accusing someone of something while actually accusing them of it:
Just to be clear, I'm not here accusing Judge Karlton himself of activism. He determined that he is required by the previous holding of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Newdow case to enjoin the district from the practice.
Also note that Limbaugh, who is not attorney nor judge but what used to be called a “hedge lawyer” – someone who knows only the law which works to his particular advantage – has a feeling that Karlton is legally as well as morally and philosophically wrong, though of course he declines to detail why:
I suspect it may later be determined that Judge Karlton is way off in his legal analysis, but if he is correct, then he was not engaging in judicial activism by following binding precedent (again, assuming it is binding) from a superior court.
Returning to the even-if-this-isn’t-wrong-it-doesn’t-mean-i
This case, however, does highlight the judicial activism of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court in their Establishment Clause jurisprudence.
How have we come to this pass, where there’s not a place I the whole lower 48 where a good Christian can hang his hat from the peg of state authority? Because of 200 years of liberal Supreme Court justices, that’s how.
If the Court had, through the years, construed the Establishment Clause in accordance with the original understanding of the Framers, these pledge cases -- and similar cases -- would never have gotten off the ground.
And who best knows the “original understanding of the Framers”, you ask? Why, David Limbaugh, of course!
The Establishment Clause was designed to prohibit the Establishment of a national religion or a national church. It was not intended to erect a "wall of separation" between church and state, nor prohibit all endorsements of religion by the federal government. And it was emphatically not intended to force government to be neutral between theism and atheism.
He’s right, in the weaselly way that people like him are right. Unfortunately, we have from the pen of Thomas Jefferson, who by a bad stroke of luck for the David Limbaughs of this world happened to have written most of the Constitution, that the best way to prohibit the establishment of a national religion is the erect a wall of separation between church and state. Next, he demonstrates his far from unique ability to completely misconstrue and decontextualize a historical statement:
Like it or not, the Constitution, rightly interpreted, allows the federal government (and the states) to "encourage" the Christian religion. As Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) wrote, "Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution … the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State, so far as such encouragement was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship."
Step 1: Well, probably, at the time of the adoption of the constitution, the general sentiment in America was also that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, black people were born slaves, and Indians were a nuisance to be exterminated in the manner of fleas. Step 2: the “if not” in “if not the universal” does not here mean “probably” but “rather than”. Step 3: the significance of the last clause – “so far as encouragement was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship” – is the key to understanding the tendency to separate church and state, and Limbaugh’s ilk is either entirely oblivious to that fact, or pretends to be.
When one is compelled to participate in public displays of a faith to which one does not adhere, that creates a condition incompatible with the private rights of conscience. When one is compelled to fund with tax money the state-sponsored display of articles of a religion which is alien to one’s own, that restricts the freedom of religious worship by obligating one to pay necessary homage to said alien religion – a violation of the tenets of almost every faith, most especially Christianity. It is a certainty that Limbaugh would raise his own flavor of holy hell if a public school teacher required students to genuflect towards Mecca during the course of the pledge. His entire argument stinks of selective ignorance; he ignores what is essential for what is cosmetic. In this he is a bad arguer, and worse (from the bosom of his own) a bad Christian.
The Establishment Clause was never intended to apply to such removed, indirect nods toward religion. And it does not guarantee our right not to be offended or made to feel uncomfortable.
Actually, that’s exactly what it guarantees. Since the very nature of a pluralist republican government ensures that it’s rarely one step removed from theocracy, what the Establishment Clause is designed to do is to restrict the ability of the government to sanction a specific religion, which not only keeps us father than that one step, but ensures that citizens will not be offended by the state endorsement of religious principles not their own, or made uncomfortable by the mandatory participation in or obeisance to a profession of faith in which they do not serve.
Limbaugh’s fantasies are spun with the pretense of scaring us into thinking godless one-worlders are taking over the seats of power. But their real intent is to reinforce the preeminence of Christianity in an already-Christian nation, to buttress the strength of the strong and weaken the stance of the weak. Don’t ever forget it.