Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Judge not...or something

A judge refused to delay a trial Tuesday when an attorney objected to his wearing a judicial robe with the Ten Commandments embroidered on the front in gold.

Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan showed up Monday at his Covington County courtroom in southern Alabama wearing the robe. Attorneys who try cases at the courthouse said they had not seen him wearing it before. The commandments were described as being big enough to read by anyone near the judge.

Attorney Riley Powell, defending a client charged with DUI, filed a motion objecting to the robe and asking that the case be continued. He said McKathan denied both motions.

"I feel this creates a distraction that affects my client," Powell said.

McKathan told The Associated Press that he believes the Ten Commandments represent the truth "and you can't divorce the law from the truth. ... The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong."


Here we go. I feel like a broken record.
But I aim to repet it until it takes: MORALITY AND LEGALITY ARE NOT CONGRUENT.

Of all the misunderstandings that confuse and polarize people is the simple fact that what is legal is not always what is moral. And what is moral is not always what is legal. The halls of government and the sanctuaries of churches are, thank God, two very different, separate and sovereign environments. Both are important, in the same way that soap and water, and soup and water are important. But when you confuse the two, you either smell like soup or have a terrible taste of soap in your mouth.

This judge, by sporting the Ten Commandments on his robes -- in today's political climate -- is making an in-your-face political statement which has little, if anything, to do with morality OR legality, and everything to do with Politics. The gesture will, at the same time, only further contaminate the thinking of already muddy-thinking people, driving them further from ever understanding, much less appreciating, the six words I wrote above in upper-case type.

And once again I find myself in agreement with Debi White, who also commented on this story today.

Circuit Court Judge Ashley McLathan must be a clever fellow. Nothing publicly separates true, moral believers from the howling liberal heathens like forcing Democrats to be seen hiding biblical passages. Little raises the heat and energy of righteous conservative indignation more than motiviating the rank-and-file religious right to defend the sacred Word of God from evil non-believers.

Just in time for the first tough issues debates since the election. The first big fight of Bush's second security. By design or not, the close-to-depleted tank of far-right fuel can be replenished for new national issues fights by Judge McLathan's adroit baiting of the law and horrified press.
Rather like waving a red flag at a bull, Judge McLathan is begging authorities to make him a revered Christian martyr of the judicial circuit. Remember how appalled we all were that young French women were ordered to remove their Muslim head scarves? That they couldn't publicly exercise freedom of religious expression on their own persons?

The judge is aching for the same confrontation. He and his cohorts would love nothing more for Christmas than for him to be challenged about his manner of dress. Imagine the indignant press conferences.....the photo-ops of Judge McLathan displaying the offending robes.....of protestors surrounding the courthouse, chanting to save the Bible. Ahh...Santa Claus would be hard-pressed to find a more appreciated gift for conservative Alabama judges.

She concludes that the best response to the matter is to ignore it, thereby making it a non-issue.
I agree. I can do that okay. After thirty-five years dealing with the public, overlooking ignorance has become a way of life for me.

One thing does get under my skin, however. When I see persons of status advancing a conflict rather than moving toward a resolution, I wonder if they even know or care what they are doing. I want to say, "Excuse me, sir, are you aware that the Ten Commandments has become a political symbol more than a record of God's revealed words to Moses?"

Today I was talking to someone at work who mentioned "Did you know we aren't supposed to say 'Merry Christmas' any more?"
"You mean that business about 'Happy holidays' so we dont offend non-Christians?"
"Yes," she said, "haven't you heard?"
"Yes, I have," I said, "and I don't think it makes any difference. I'm going to say whatever feels right. And political correctness be damned."

The odd part is this. when I started dealing with the public, in retail, thirty-five years ago, I very deliberately said to customers, "I hope you have a good holiday!" or "Enjoy the holidays!" I did this instinctively, out of good manners, recognizing that not everyone celebrates the same holiday this time of year.
I have always felt that was the right thing to do.
But to be told that I have to do it, that it is now that gets on my nerves.
It is for that reason that I feel so strongly about issues of morality and legality.
It is personally easier for me to be moral, on purpose, than to do the right thing because it is required of me.

And that is part of the reason that the behavior of the Alabama judge gets under my skin.

It was not my intention to get side-tracked like this, but the moment I left the article and started surfing, the first place I hit was Pejman, whose post on natural law seemed obliquely related to this story.
As if that were not enough, he linked to a couple of other places touching on the same issue, with a discussion of Clarence Thomas being the focal point. (Somebody called Justice Thomas an "embarrassment" to the court. Kind of like calling Senator Byrd an embarrassment to the Senate. As long as Thomas and Byrd keep their noses clean and don't pull a "Trent Lott," any criticism they get will run off like water on a duck and the critic will sustain more damage than either of them.)
So go look at Jack Balkin, Lawrence Solum, and Pejman Yousefzadeh.
More than you ever cared to know about natural law.
And I come away with the clear impression that the Alabama judge is far, far away from the fine points of any discussion of "natural law."

Harry Truman's assessment of Ike comes to mind. "That fellow don't know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday."
Now there was a man who understood the connection between church and state.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Thanks! I always enjoy where you take the discussion next, also.