Friday, July 16, 2004

The Declaration and the Establishment Clause

Here is a question for liberals, especially those of the extreme ACLU type. Given your excessively latitudinarian interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – an interpretation so extreme that it requires the removal of a small cross from the seal of the city of Los Angeles -- why do you consider the Declaration of Independence a document fit for posting in public places?

Note first that there are at least four references to God in the Declaration. In the opening paragraph we find the phrase, “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God....” And in the second paragraph, we are told that it is a self-evident truth that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights....” (In case it is not obvious, a reference to God is not the same as an occurrence of the word ‘God’ since God can be referred to in ways that do not use ‘God.’) In the final paragraph, there are references to God via the phrases, “Supreme Judge of the World,” and “divine Providence....” Given these obvious references to God as God of Nature (and thus as distinct from nature), as creator, as supreme judge, and as provider (in the two-fold sense of one who foresees (pro-videre) and supplies our needs), how can the extreme ACLU-type liberal countenance the posting of the Declaration in any public place? The Establishment Clause reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion....” Now it should be completely opaque to any rational person how the posting of the Ten Commandments, say, by a judge, say, in his chambers, could be taken to be an establishment of any particular religion as the state religion. First of all, a judge is not the Congress. Second, the mere displaying of an ancient document does not suffice to establish a religion. Third, the Ten Commandments is not specific to any one religion: it is common to the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

But let that pass. On the present occasion I am arguing ex concesso: I concede the extremist interpretion of the Establishment Clause in order to raise a question of logical consistency, namely, how is it logically consistent to uphold the extremist interpretation while not applying it to the public display of the Declaration? If the references to God in the Ten Commandments
disallow its posting in public, why don’t the references to God in the Declaration have a similar effect?

What I am saying to the ACLU-type liberal is this. Be consistent: either apply your extremist interpretation of the Establishment Clause to the Declaration and argue for the latter’s removal from public places, or give up the extremist interpretation. Of course, a conservative will opt for the second disjunct and take the first as a reductio ad absurdum of the liberal position. But the conservative cannot expect the liberal to follow him in this. But what one can expect, and indeed demand, is that the liberal be logically consistent. Making this demand, one does not impose one’s views on him, one merely demands that he be consistent in the views that he chooses to hold.

But what if our dear liberal rejects the Law of Non-Contradiction? Such a person should be simply ignored. For such a person, as Aristotle remarks in his classic defense of LNC in Metaphysics, Book Gamma, is “no better than a plant.”(10006a15)