Wednesday, October 05, 2005

When It's Wrong To Be Right

Carpetbagger just brought up an interesting point about asking religious questions of Supreme Court nominees.  Specifically, if a nominee is religious and a case comes before them that has a conflict between their faith and the law, should we ask them if their faith will overrule our laws?

And of course, the answer is a definite yes.  We should ask this.  We must.  Not because there’s anything wrong with being religious.  But because the basis of our legal system is the Constitution and other man-made laws.  And their decisions need to reflect that fact.  Even if one believes that their god or religious teachings are the basis for our laws, justices still need to base decisions on what is written in our laws.  And if there is any conflict, then that is just more proof that the religious teachings are not the basis for those laws.  It’s that simple.  But in no case should a justice use their faith to override the laws.  That’s just not how our system works.

An analogy would be if the Redskins had a case before the court in which they had done wrong, but the court ruled in their favor because they were big Redskins fans.  Personal beliefs have no business influencing legal decisions.  Legal decisions should be based on our laws and nothing else.  Naturally, it’s impossible to restrict all beliefs from all decisions; but it should at least be the standard we try to attain.  And if a nominee can’t even say that his personal beliefs will take a back seat to our laws, then that person should be denied the job.

Damned If You Do

Thus said, it’s natural that righties don’t want this question to come up.  But it’s not for the reason we think.  They’re not doing this because Roberts or Miers might say something to offend the ACLU-types.  But rather, because their answer might offend religious-types.  Specifically, if they answer that they will put the law above their faith; that is the wrong answer for many Christians.  They believe that faith comes first, always.  And that’s fine for someone’s individual beliefs.  But it’s crap for a judge.  That’s just not how our system works.  You go by the rules in the books, not the rules you want in the books.

But then there is the other whammy of offending the ACLU-types.  Because despite belief to the contrary, most people support the Church-State separation stuff; including many Christians.  And any judge who says otherwise has no business being a judge.  Render unto the church what is the church’s, and let America stick to the Constitution.  If these people want to enforce religious teachings, then let them work for a church; not our government.  

And so it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t kind of thing.  If they give the correct answer, they’ll piss-off the religious-right which believes that this is a Christian nation with their god’s laws as its basis.  And if they give the wrong answer, and say that God comes first, then they’ve given the wrong answer and shouldn’t be given the job.  

Again, I have no problem with people being religious in their personal life.  And I even think it’s a helpful thing.  If someone really believes that the only thing stopping them from being a murdering pedophile is their fear of God’s punishment; then I’m all for belief.  That’s what they tell us is at stake, and I’m willing to believe them.  So I’m not against faith, unless they’re trying to act as if it’s binding on America.  And so there is no “good” answer for a rightwing nominee these days, as even the right answer is wrong for them.

But that doesn’t make it a bad question.  In fact, it’s a necessary question.  As Carpetbagger says, we don’t need theological quizzes.  But we do need to find out what these people believe regarding faith and the law.  That’s not a religious test.  It’s just a basic question to find out whether they’re able to do the job or not.  

The same goes for every employer.  If your personal beliefs will cause you to take actions which go against the company’s interests or prevent you from doing your job properly, they have a right to know that before they hire you.  And they should deny you the job.  A strict Mormon shouldn’t work as a taste-tester for Pepsi.  A vegan shouldn’t work as a butcher.  And a fundamentalist Christian who thinks that their god’s law trumps our human laws shouldn’t be a judge.  This isn’t discrimination or unfair.  It’s just common-sense.  

And it’s the President’s and the Senate’s duty to make sure that the people they hire are capable of doing the job they’re being hired for.  It’s not a trick or a dirty question.  It’s their job.

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