What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I must admit that I don’t follow Supreme Court pleadings very closely, but I do keep up by listening to Jan Crawford Greenberg on the PBS News Hour and reading her in the Chicago Tribune. Yesterday was a busy day for Jan, trying to explain the wrap up of the current session, including the "split" decision on the Ten Commandments and the court’s refusal to hear the appeals of Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine. Actually, she didn’t need to explain that last matter. It was self evident. But it does call for commentary as does the Ten Commandments issue.

My initial reaction to the Ten Commandments decisions was much the same as my reaction when the Court accepted the cases. Big deal. Who cares? As long as someone isn’t running around hitting me over the head with the Ten Commandments and insisting that I have to have the same religious beliefs that they do, having them on a plaque on walls in government buildings doesn’t bother me one iota. I’m far from a religious person as readers of this blog know, but I think there are some pretty good rules to be found among all those Biblical commandments.. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t be an adulterer. Don’t envy what other people have. Be respectful of your folks. Who could argue against those kinds of ideas?

But first thoughts often give way to second thoughts and as I sat down to type these comments, those second thoughts kicked in. We do need to care about where on government property it’s O.K. to display the Ten Commandments. I don’t know what the reasoning of each justice was, but here’s why I’m reasonably pleased with their decisions. We are living through a time in history when there is an ongoing effort by people generally referred to as the "religious right" to not just blur the lines of demarcation between church and state but to inject religion and religious belief into all areas of secular life - from our schools to our courtrooms. If we ignore those efforts - if we think that they are not going to affect us in any meaningful way, they will begin to take hold in a significant fashion and we’ll all wake up one morning shocked to find out that "creationism" is being taught as science in our schools, homosexuality has become a Federal crime and abortion is classified as murder in the second degree.

The lawsuits that are filed against religious encroachment in secular areas and that wend their way up to the Supreme Court, act as speed bumps to slow down and arrest the onrush of these attempts to imbue our democracy with an unhealthy dose of theocracy. The two cases just decided apply a common sense response to the arguments of opposing sides of the church/state separation issue. An edifice that contains the Ten Commandments but that is obviously something more than just a statement of religion, encroaches on nobody’s secular world. We can’t deny that the Judeo/Christian faith is part of this nation’s history and that examples of that history abound in public buildings and monuments. But as long as those examples don’t exist exclusively for religious purposes, I don’t see them violating the 14th amendment. On the other hand, I agree with the majority that the Ten Commandments don’t belong on display in courtrooms. It’s surely enough of a sop to those who believe that religion should play a role in our judicial system to have witnesses swear to tell the truth "so help them God" - and to do it with their hands on a Bible.

So in summary, though I don’t feel personally threatened by those who would weave religious belief into the very fabric of American society, I’m grateful that the Supreme Court sees fit to throw appropriate roadblocks in their path.

I’m not happy that the Supremes declined to hear the appeals of journalists Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper who now face possible jail sentences for refusing to divulge their sources in the Valerie Plame case - not so much because the law was on their side, because it wasn’t. There is no established law protecting journalists who refuse to reveal a source to a grand jury investigation.

But I’m unhappy because while we’ve heard every moment of the pursuit of Miller and Cooper, courtesy of our own Illinois modern day Javert, Patrick Fitzgerald, we have heard nothing of the involvement of the journalist who actually did the initial leaking of Plame’s identity as a CIA operative - Robert Novak. Speculation abounds that he cut a deal with Fitzgerald and revealed his source, which wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

But we don’t know this because Fitzgerald isn’t talking. But one has to wonder - if he has revealed his source, why is so much effort being expended in pursuit of Cooper, who made his reference to Plame after she had been "outed" by Novak - and Miller, who published nothing about her? Why isn’t Fitzgerald pursuing the government "leaker or leakers" who apparently committed a crime when they gave Novak the information that he published.

This case smells to high heaven. Fitzgerald owes it to the American public to tell us what he knows about the Novak involvement in the case and why he isn’t hauling him and/or any known government leaker into court as he is doing with Cooper and Miller.

Judith Miller opened her own - web site today. Maybe we’ll get some answers from her down the road. In letters from jail. Has a familiar ring, don’t you think?