On what understanding of “right” do atheists claim the prerogative to sue, in federal courts, seeking to remove religious symbols from government owned property? These suits are brought on behalf of people who claim that they are “offended” by the sight of religious objects. But the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment plainly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Religious behavior, including the display of religious symbols, is obviously an aspect of the “free exercise” of religion. As a Roman Catholic, for example, I often make the sign of the cross as I whisper a prayer before starting a speech, or engaging in some other endeavor that reminds me of my dependence on God’s help.
If someone notices that I do so, is it right for them to take offense at the outward appearance of my religiosity? I often did so I when I was attending events in an official capacity for the U.S. government. Before starting to eat, at a luncheon or dinner, I would say a prayer, making the sign of the cross as I began and ended it. How can the very amendment that guarantees the free exercise of religion in one breath, in another snatch away that protection simply because a citizen of the United States has entered into the public’s service? Since that service entails upholding the Constitution, how can it be construed to require that all officials violate its terms with respect to their own behavior?
This is particularly relevant because the Constitution’s 9th Amendment forbids any construction of the rights enumerated in the Constitution that “denies or disparages others retained by the people.” That it is right to acknowledge God, and to behave according to “the laws of nature and of Nature’s God”, was dramatically affirmed when Representatives of the United States of America, acting “by authority of the good people” of the original colonies, did “solemnly publish and declare that they “are and of right ought to be Free and Independence States….”
The declaration by which the United States came into existence thus derived its lawful basis from an explicit assertion of right, endowed by God, and self-evidently antecedent to the enumeration of rights in the U.S. Constitution. The rightness of acknowledging God’s judgment, as the standard of right, was thus evoked by the act of the people of the United States, which brought their nation into being. The Constitution derives its authority from their successful enforcement of that act, over the violent objections of forces loyal to the British Monarchy.
It is plainly irrational to suggest that the First Amendment language forbidding Federal enactment of a law to prohibit the establishment of religion forbids any sign of religious reverence. If it does, the Constitution of the United States forbids the U.S. government to respect the act by which the people of the United States successfully asserted the authority to ordain and establish it. For if action in respect of God’s judgment is not lawfully right (i.e., an action right by virtue of its conformity to law, duly promulgated by a sovereign empowered to make law), then there is no lawful ground for the authority from which the people of the United States derive their claim to sovereignty over themselves. As they are no sovereign, the Supreme Law they ordain for their self-government is no law. It may, therefore, be resisted, without breach of law or good faith, by anyone with will and power enough to do so.
Respect for God’s endowment of right is thus essential to maintaining the people’s claim of sovereignty. The notion that it is an offense to show any sign of that respect is, therefore, a direct assault on the legitimacy of the Constitution they ordain and establish to implement that sovereignty. Atheists who claim that it is right to be offended by any show of religious reverence consistent with the respect for God that gives ground for the sovereignty of the American people are therefore saying, in effect, that they are offended by the very existence of the nation the American people constitute and govern, relying on the claim of sovereignty they successfully staked out, and have maintained, upon that ground.
Judges who construe the First Amendment’s language to aid and abet this attack on the sovereignty of the people of the United States clearly violate the terms of the Ninth Amendment. Moreover, they do so in respect of the understanding of democratic right (i.e., right use of the strength of the people) on which the Constitution’s legitimacy wholly depends. This is an abuse of their judicial power tantamount to treason.
How can it be right for atheists to sue in courts that depend on the authority of the people because they feel aggrieved by the premises of right (staked upon God’s will and lawful power) from which those Courts derive their Constitutional power to entertain and decide the suit? Do the people of the United States have no proprietary interest in maintaining the claim of sovereignty by which they govern themselves and their country?
Far from being within their rights, these atheists threaten the sovereign body politic of the United States with grievous bodily harm. It is bad enough that they expect to receive strict immunity for the unjust, anti-constitutional, terminally divisive religious bigotry they so publicly display. What is, perhaps, even more offensive is that they do so using arguments intended to debase the nation’s understanding of right so thoroughly that it no longer supports the right of the people to govern themselves.
What reason have we, the people of the United States, to empower bigoted individuals with a prerogative fatal to the way of life our exercise of rightful liberty secures? No reason at all. In fact, it is the utter loss of reason that makes some people think it is right to abet this fundamentally lawless, court-assisted-suicide of our self-government as a people.
Alan Keyes is a political activist, a prolific writer and a former diplomat.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.