Challenging Assumptions

I was recently removed from a Facebook discussion after I challenged a cherished axiom of social/political/theological juncture.  (And no, it wasn’t about immigration.) I have also noticed that when I blog about anything that hints at scrutinizing accepted talking points, the traffic drops to nothing. People don’t even read just to say, “What an idiot.” When I want hits, I write sentimental schmaltz. Critical thinking is not a particularly popular pastime.

So what sorts of challenges are unwelcome? How about the one that most recently made me persona non grata.

Ever since Engel v. Vitale was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1962, prayer has become increasingly banned in public schools. What began as a ban on school-sponsored prayer during educational time eventually led to the decision in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000), that student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games violates the Establishment Clause.  By extension this covers any student-led student initiated prayer at any school function.

Because Engel is a flawed example of judicial activism, it is bad. If prayer was constitutional for 171 years, it doesn’t suddenly become unconstitutional. This is just like the three-prong test of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) that sets out the requirements of any legislation that touches upon religion. If three prongs weren’t necessary before 1971, they don’t somehow become necessary afterwards. Any cases based on Engel and Lemon (like Santa Fe ISD) are, ipso facto, flawed.

To this point, I no doubt have my cheering section of politically active, conservative Christians behind me. This is, after all, pretty standard Strict Constructionist, Original Intent stuff. However, I think there is a need to re-evaluate, not the legal arguments, but the moral arguments that have become a popular extension from them.

As I mentioned above, I had my comments removed from a Facebook thread. This happened after I challenged the following statement: “Morals declined when we took prayer and God out of school.” (Being removed from a discussion is nothing new to me. I’ve even been thrown out of an entire conservative Facebook group for holding a minority opinion on an issue.)  This proposition has become as much a part of the warp and woof of Christian conservativism as the legal analysis of Engel and its progeny. How dare I question the unquestionable. Yet that is exactly what I do.

I do this for two reasons. First, and most simply, because the truth matters. Second, and perhaps more controversially, because, as I addressed in another instance on this blog less than a year ago, conservative Christians have succumbed to sloppy scholarship.

I do this from two sources of evidence. First, it is worth examining school-sponsored prayer in state education outside of the United States. Second, there is the issue of the historical record and proximate cause.

I bring to this discussion seven years of experience as a teacher in the state schools in England and Wales. As recently as 1998, it was statutorily re-affirmed that in state schools all pupils must take part in a daily act of collective worship unless their parent has requested a waiver. The acts of collective worship must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.” Not only that, but children are also required to attended Religious Education lessons throughout the entire course of their compulsory education. The majority of these RE lessons must also be based on Christianity.

With that experience, and over a decade of living in conservative rural England, I can assure you that the continuation of prayer and even of Christian education in state schools has done nothing to slow the decline of morals, of the young or the not-so-young, in the United Kingdom. Robert Bork once wrote that America is slouching toward Gomorrah. If the United Kingdom sought to pursue the moral standards of Gomorrah and its sister city Sodom, it would be an upward move. These two ancient conurbations of sin are veritable Cities Set Upon Hills compared to the morality of Sceptred Isle.

But what of the possibility of an actual causal link between Engel and moral decline? This raises a couple of related questions. First, did the removal of the content have an effect? What was the nature of that content in 1962?

We first have to recognize that in 1962, prayer in school wasn’t particularly widespread across the United States. It was actually at its peak in the 1920s, though it had been ruled out in quite a few states before or shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Along with mandatory Bible reading, it was the subject of considerable litigation in the state courts, sometimes upheld and sometime overturned, based on state constitutions.

Even though it was patchy across the US, what was the content of prayer in schools in 1962? Let’s look at the prayer that was ruled unconstitutional in Engel. In New York, the following prayer had to be recited by a school official each day: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.” After Engel, that one sentence was no longer recited publicly at some point during the day. It that enough to send the nation into a moral tailspin?

I cannot count how many examples I’ve seen of charts, graphs, and tables marking the decline in morality since the Engel decision. The interesting thing is that they don’t chart back before 1962 to indicate trends already in the making and unchanged by Engel or its progeny. And of course they don’t demonstrate a direct causal link between the removal of a one-line prayer and the rise in violent crime, sexual promiscuity, music piracy, or whichever evil they are attempting to emphasize. Generally they are based upon the self-evident statement that such evils are what happens when God is removed from public schools. A little circular reasoning goes a long way.

I will finish by going to the heart of the matter. Did “we” (through Supreme Court justices appointed by three different Presidents before almost all of us were born) take prayer or God out of schools? I know I prayed in school long after Engel, which was decided two years before I was born.  Prayer is, after all, talking to God. And can anyone remove God from a school or any place else? On the other hand, how many kids were actually praying when a teacher or principal recited “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country”? Or was it form over substance?  Can the acts of Supreme Court justices confer collective responsibility upon anyone, not to mention lives not yet in being?

In the UK, God is mentioned everywhere in school and He gets his own lessons, yet almost no one acknowledges Him. In the US, He is not officially mentioned and churches (other than liberal Protestant denominations) continue to grow. He is more openly acknowledged in the media and in politics than in 1962. There are more open visible followers of Jesus amongst young people in America than ever before. In trying to make a connection between the virtually symbolic act of removing prayer from schools and the abundance of sin, there has been ignorance of the fact that grace has much more abounded.

Would it be nice if we returned to the practice of a content-free, one sentence, ecumenical prayer in public schools each day? Perhaps. Is it going to stem the dishonesty, violence, fornication, or whatever other ills we identify in our young people or in our society? No. That takes real prayer. That takes changed hearts and changed lives.

Sooners Scared of Sharia

It’s just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen. Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to ban courts in the state from considering Islamic sharia law when considering cases. It also forbids courts to look to the legal precepts of other nations or consider international law when deciding cases.  Each of these provisions is so idiotic that I don’t even know where to start.

State Question 755 (ominously called the Save Our State Amendment) added this to the Oklahoma Constitution (italics mine):

The Courts…when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia Law, in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

This whole thing started because an Oklahoma state representative heard about a case in New Jersey where a trial judge ruled against a woman seeking a restraining order because her husband was acting on his religious beliefs. The trial judge was promptly reversed by an appellate court, but the matter did not even involved sharia. In the New Jersey case, the trial judge did not say that since sharia allows the husband to force himself on his wife, he is entitled to do so. The trial judge said that the man’s sincere religious belief prevented him from forming the necessary mens rea to constitute marital rape. The judge was wrong and justice prevailed.

Another sponsor of the measure fretted because England has embraced 85 sharia courts, “while Oklahoma is still able to defend itself against this sort of hideous invasion, we should do so.” The only problem is that England has not embraced 85 sharia courts. England has 85 sharia courts (or at least the Daily Mail tells us so), but that’s like saying Oklahoma has 111 Rotary Clubs. Has Oklahoma embraced the Rotary Clubs?  Are Oklahoma courts bound to consider the decisions of Rotary Clubs which have hideously invaded the state, unless a constitutional amendment is passed?

People can voluntarily be a part of any organization. The only thing the sharia courts offer that is different is a forum for alternative dispute resolution. ADR is an increasingly popular thing. The idea is that litigants can chose a mediator or arbitrator to help them settle their differences. This saves the courts time and the parties money. Often lots of money. If both of the litigants are Muslims, there is no reason they cannot choose to have a dispute abitrated by other Muslims. If it is a matter which requires court approval, they can then enter a consent order with the court. As long as the agreement between the parties is consistent with the law, the court will usually approve the order. That is what some courts in England have done with sharia court decisions.

But this is nothing new. Courts in both England and the United States have often approved consent orders that are the results of beth din rulings. A beth din is the equivalent of a sharia court for Orthodox Jews. If both parties are Orthodox Jews and want to have their dispute settled in accordance with Jewish law, they come before the beth din judges following accepted rules of legal procedure and the judges decide the case, which is then submitted to the state court, particularly in family law cases. Perhaps someone needs to amend the Oklahoma amendment to forbid the consideration of Jewish law, in case there is an invasion of Orthodox Jews into the Sooner State.

But here’s the kicker. Muslims who submit their disputes to a sharia court and Jews who submit their disputes to a beth din are only doing what Christians should have been doing. Most Christians ignore the first half of I Corinthians chapter 6. I’ll just quote the first verse to refresh your memory and you can go read the rest: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?”

But what about this “The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures” bit? This is very interesting. Let’s look at it in reverse order. What is another culture? Clearly for the authors of the proposal, it is any culture where Islam is the dominant religion. But that’s not what the amendment says. And what constitutes a “legal precept” of that culture?

But it’s that “other nations” bit that will cause an interesting problem. The whole idea of the common law and the rules by which it operates did not originate in the United States. They come from England, which is, according to my red passport, another nation. Having lived within it for over a decade, I can assure you that it is another culture as well. It is fortunate that Oklahoma, unlike its neighbors Texas and New Mexico, is not a community property state, because it would then be looking to the legal precepts of Spanish law as well. Nonetheless, it appears that the authors (and is must be said, 70% of Oklahoma voters) imagine that American law just sprang up sua sponte.

And finally there is that bit about international law. This is bizarre because regardless of the amendment, Oklahoma courts will have to consider international law. Treaties to which the United States is a party are the supreme law of the land. So says Article VI Section 1 of the US Constitution. Treaties to which the United States is not a party are irrelevant and would never be considered by a court in Oklahoma. The relevance of international law is a federal matter, because only the federal government has any legal interaction with other countries.

State Question 755 was written by ignorant people to be voted upon by ignorant people.  Somehow a lot of people see the words “Islam” or  “Muslim” and their brain function just shuts off. Muslims are bad, so if something is against Muslims it must be good. It doesn’t have to be good law or even make logical sense. It will probably do something to help stop the great Muslims invasion (they must be massed at Fort Smith and Siloam Springs just waiting to pour over the border) and that’s all that matters.

Lord, save us from ourselves.

What the Arizona Court Order Actually Says

There seems to be some confusion about the prelimiary injunction ordered by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton with regard to Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Reading both the press and the blogs, there are misunderstandings, misconstructions, oversimplifications, and lots of rhetoric, especially wondering how the judge could rule this way when (they presume) the Arizona law mimics federal law. I have read the court order and this is my legal – not political – analysis:

The judge started off by explaning which provisions of the statute are being enjoined from enforcement and which are not. Almost all of the statute stands and is enforceable pending trial on the merits. Four narrow provisions are temporarily enjoined. She concludes this section by stating the legal basis of the injunction, viz., that the moving party is likely to succeed on the merits with regard to those provisions when the case is tried and the moving party would suffer irreparable harm if the court does not provide preliminary relief, as well as the tests of the balance of equities and public interest. This is the same standard used in any case.

In the next section, the judge provides a good overview of federal immigration law that is worthy of reading by a lot of people here and on other blogs who seemed to be confused by it. There is a good overview of the relevant portions of SB 1070.

The judge then gives a good explanation of why she cannot and will not enjoin all of SB 1070 as the Government moved.

Addressing each provision, she starts with Section 2(B), which does not mimic any federal law, but says that if someone who is stopped, detained, or arrested is suspected of being an unauthorized alien they have to have their immigration status determined before they are released. This places a substantial burden on both citizens and lawful aliens (citing Hines v. Davidowitz), as well as a burden on federal resources (citing Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Comm.) forcing reallocation of resources from higher priorities directly related to national security. The judge then footnoted the possible 4th Amendment issues, but did not use them as the basis of her ruling.

With regard to Section 3, this also does not mimic federal law, but rather creates a separate state offense with state penalties for violating a federal law. This runs contrary to Hines in several ways as clearly set out. Not really a shocker. Preemption is pretty obvious and success at trial very likely.

With regard to their Section 4 challenge, the Government is not likely to succeed, because they are seeking to enjoin a section of the statute that was amended by Section 4 of SB 1070 but not the actual change brought about by Section 4. No injunction.

The injunction with regard to Section 5 involves the portion that criminalizes unauthorized aliens who attempt to get work or actually work. Again, this does not mimic federal law. Congress specifically did not impose criminal or civil penalties on employees when it chose to do so on employers. The judge ruled that because the Arizona statute conflicts with a comprehensive federal scheme, it is preempted.

The Government attempted two further injunctions with regard to Section 5 but did not succeed.

Section 6 of SB 1070 does not mimic federal law and provides that an officer may arrest a person without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that “the person to be arrested has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.” This would include any offense that might have been committed at any time outside of Arizona. The judge cites Justice Alito in Padilla v. Kentucky:

providing advice on whether a conviction for a particular offense will make an alien removable is often quite complex. “Most crimes affecting immigration status are not specifically mentioned by the [Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)], but instead fall under a broad category of crimes such as crimes involving moral turpitude or aggravated felonies.” M. Garcia & L. Eig, CRS Report for Congress, Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activity (Sept. 20, 2006) (summary) (emphasis in original). As has been widely acknowledged, determining whether a particular crime is an “aggravated felony” or a “crime involving moral turpitude [(CIMT)]” is not an easy task.

As a result or this and the fact that it would also require Arizona officers to make judgments with regard to non-Arizona statutes, Judge Bolton ruled:

Considering the substantial complexity in determining whether a particular public offense makes an alien removable from the United States and the fact that this determination is ultimately made by federal judges, there is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens under the new A.R.S. § 13-3883(A)(5). By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a “distinct, unusual and extraordinary” burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose. Hines, 312 U.S. at 65-66.

The judge concluded her order with a detailed explanation of how the provisions she enjoined meet the standards for injunctive relief. This is set out in a clear and reasonable way.

Judge Bolton’s ruling may not be popular, especially in Arizona. That is part of the separation of powers. It is not a judge’s job to do the popular thing. That is why federal judges are not elected. The rule of law and the current will of the people may not be the same thing.  Judge Bolton did not rule in any activist way. She did not bend to the will of the Obama Administration.

If you wish to substantively disagree with my legal analysis, or make other substantive comments, feel free to do so.

Show Trial for a Scapegoat

The kangaroo court in Munich is now in session. John Demjanjuk, 89, in a wheelchair, half-conscious, and with no eye-witnesses testifying against him, is on trial in Germany for crimes alleged to have happened in Poland 66 years ago.

The chief question is whether the German state, in an illegal invasion of Poland, captured Demjanjuk and forced him to become a guard at Sobibor concentration camp. It is not the German state that is on trial, or even any Germans. It is not even alleged that Demjanjuk killed anyone. All of the 27,900 counts against him are for accessory to murder. By being a guard at the camp, he kept people from escaping so that Germans could kill them – in Poland, of which he is neither a citizen nor has he ever lived other than under the control of the German army.

The German are really grasping at straws to find non-Germans to prosecute in Germany for crimes perpetrated by a German government.

I made further observations back in April during the extradition proceedings.

When Good News is Bad News

The good news: David Souter is leaving the SCOTUS. The bad news: Barack Obama is choosing his replacement. The worse news: he has a rubber stamp Senate to confirm her. I’m predicting the same as everyone else. He will choose an woman from an ethnic minority. Or as even liberal Time magazine says, “White men need not apply.”

I don’t care whether care whether the new justice is a man or a woman. I don’t care what their ethnic background is. What I do care about is the box-ticking exercise of thinking this is important. On one level care about the affirmative action approach to filling one of the nine most important judicial seats in the land. That is a very poor crtieria.

But the much more important thing it that it reflects a much more troubling aspect of Obama’s judicial philosophy.  “I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.” This sounds so wonderful and heartwarming.

We need someone who will bend and change the law to make people happy. We need unelected judges to override elected legislators in making law. We need to change the meaning of the Constitution because we feel sorry for people.  If we get a cultural and gender cross-section on the Court, they can represent the people in choosing what the Constitution should become – more white men are more likely to tell us what it is.

If the law cannot be changed on a case-by-case basis, then we are stuck with equality under the law. That makes it much more difficult to favour minorities or special interest groups, especially ones we for whom we feel sorry because we don’t think they have been as materially prosperous. Enlightened justices needs to protect and promote behaviour that legislators, encumbered as they are by the will of the people, won’t endorse.

I want to say in closing that I don’t have anything against David Souter personally. I am very disappointed that he has shifted from the conservative to liberal side of the Court. That’s why I wish I could be glad to see him go. As an individual, he has always been an outstanding example of public service.

Quadruple Jeopardy

John Demjanjuk ought to be left alone. For the last 32 years, this 89 year old man has been fighting allegations that he was a Nazi collaborator and prison guard. First it was US federal prosecutors. When they couldn’t make it stick, the Israelis had a go. When that didn’t work, the US authorities had another shot. Now he is being sent to Germany.

In 1977,  Demjanjuk was accused by the federal authorities of having been a guard at Treblinka, after being identified as “Ivan the Terrible” in a photo during an investigation into someone else. After four years, they eventually could only get him for lying on his naturalisation application, so they stripped him of his citizenship. When he appealed and they couldn’t get rid of him, he was extradited to Israel. Under their Nazi-hunter law, the Israelis have entitled themselves to take anyone from anywhere in the world and put them on trial for their life.

An Israeli special tribunal found him guilty and sentenced him to death. It took seven years, but fortunately the Israeli Supreme Court overturned that in a 400-page ruling. After he was returned to the US, the Court of Appeals ruled that federal prosecutors had deliberately withheld evidence and they gave back his citizenship. A little thing like prosecutorial misconduct that’s not going to stop the Justice Department, so they turned around and made new allegations. It took another five years, but they got him stripped of his citizenship again. This time they tried to deport him to Ukraine, since that’s where he was born. He’s been fighting that since 2005.

Now the Germans have filed 29,000 counts against him for being a guard at Sobibor, a prison camp that closed 66 years ago, run by a regime that ceased to exist 64 years ago, on soil that it occupied illegally, and of which he was not a citizen. The basis of their jurisdiction is that he briefly lived in Munich – not at any time when any offense is alleged to have occured. He just lived there once. He is being deported this week and will be held in prison awaiting trial, unless he is too ill, in which case he will be held in a clinic. It is expected to take several months after his incarceration before his trial begins.

As trial courts seem very willing to convict Demjanjuk, even with prosecutors who have no qualms about doing whatever they have to do to get that conviction, there will no doubt be a lengthy appeal process. He could be well into his 90s before this round of prosecution is resolved, though obviously the chances of him surviving it are slim.

This once again highlights one of the problems with current developments in international law, the over-extension of criminal jurisdiction. Nations feel free to pass legislation saying that even non-citizens can be prosecuted for acts committed outside that country. This has most recently been used by the US  to detain people at Guantanamo Bay and by the British to stop sex tourism in Thailand, though it was also used by Spain to arrest Pinochet in Britain for things he did in Chile as president of Chile. The justification is that these are bad people, so it doesn’t matter how you get them, as long as you get them.

The only country that should be trying anyone for anything done at Treblinka or Sobibor is Poland. Both were on Polish soil, both then and now. If the Poles aren’t interested interested in pursuing quadruple jeopardy againt Demjanjuk, the whole thing should be left alone.

They Call It Democracy

Before Wednesday’s election, the island of Sark in the English Channel was the last feudal outpost in the world. Power was held by chief tenants, who were by right members of the Chief Pleas, the legislative body on the island. The head of the government is the Seigneur who holds the whole island as a fief from the Queen. There is a judge known as the Seneschal.

Everything was going happily along until the owners of The Daily Telegraph, Dave and Fred Barclay, bought a number of businesses on the island, including hotels, restaurants, and shops. They became the employers of about one-sixth of the island’s population. Then they insisted on government reform. They didn’t like the feudal system and wanted to install democracy.

So under threat of personally destroying the Sark economy, they forced elections to be held. There would be a 28-member Chief Pleas elected by the island’s residents. They tried to get rid of the Seigneur and Seneschal. They filed a lawsuit in the High Court in London alleging that these offices were in contravention of European human rights legislation, but the judge ruled against them. But at least there would be an elected legislative body for the population of 600.

About one in eight residents of Sark stood in the election. When it was all said and done last night, only five pro-reform Conseillers were elected. In other words, most of the people want to keep things pretty much as they are.

So after causing the end of a happy fiefdom that has existed without any trouble since the Middle Ages, the Barclay brothers are now shutting down their Sark operations in retaliation against the democratic vote.  As their lawyer told the BBC:

“Today, via their agents in Sark, they [the Barclay brothers] have authorised and decided to close down their ongoing operations in Sark as a result of an election last night of a majority of the new assembly which is called Chief Pleas who are standing on very much an anti-Barclay platform”.

He added: “It was clear the Barclays were clear on their commitment to the island with support – they got no support at all.

“Sark doesn’t appear to want or appreciate the Barclays’ investment and so it doesn’t have it.”

That’s right. “We are going to take our ball – and your jobs – and go home. We wanted democracy so you could vote the way we told you to vote out of a sense of obligation because of our goodness to you.”

Sir David and Sir Frederick are bastards. Bullies and bastards.