In early July, the United States Supreme Court, acting on a plea brought by two unidentified families, one Mormon and one Roman Catholic, ruled the practice of prayer at high-school football games unconstitutional (Santa Fe School District v. Jane Doe). Although the prayer was delivered by a girl designated by her fellow students, Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the majority opinion, declared that praying might make some people feel excluded and, therefore, is not permissible. Like Nebraska v. Carhart only days later, the prayer decision is a stunning example of the way in which our “eminent tribunal,” has arrogated to itself supreme authority. The Court seems to believe that, once a five-member majority has been formed, there is no power in heaven or on earth that can challenge it.
In Carhart, a five-to-four majority ruled that a Nebraska law banning “partial-birth” abortion is unconstitutional. Although Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a concurring opinion that a better- written law might meet “my standard of constitutionality,” those very words, “my standard,” confirm that one justice is making herself the measure by which the lives of more than one-quarter billion people are to be ruled.
Carhart casts a sharp light on the way that the Supreme Court has begun to treat the Constitution as it it were the inspired Word of God and to present itself as God’s authorized and infallible prophets. Both Carhart and Santa Fe reflect a judicial mindset that claims a kind of apotheosis of the judiciary in general and of the Supreme Court in particular. The procedure that the Nebraska law prohibited, partial-birth abortion, is so horrible that medical and legal observers in other countries are amazed that any physician can perform it, not to mention that it can be officially sanctioned by the highest court in the land. Justice O’Connor’s “standard of constitutionality” permits thousands of almost-born babies to be killed each year by the suctioning out of their brains.
The general attitude of Christians and Jews toward secular authorities has been obedience, as St. Paul urges in Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” It may be permissible to disobey when the ruler is a tyrant, as eminent theologians have argued and Christians from time to time have done. The attempted coup of the German officers against Hitler on July 20, 1944, is a case in point. There are, however, two situations in which biblical believers are not merely permitted but actually commanded to disobey a ruler or a government, situations that arise when the rider or government attempts to set itself and its laws above and against God, making of itself an idol, in fact if not in name. Both cases are described in the Book of Daniel, in chapters three and six respectively: A Jew or a Christian who honors the God of Scripture must, not simply may, disobey when government orders him to perform what God forbids (in Daniel 3:5, idolatry) or prohibits what God commands (in Daniel 6:7, prayer).
This second situation arose in the Sante Fe decision, when the Constitution was invoked to suppress the simple practice of public prayer by a high-school girl in Sante Fe, Texas. When the prophet Daniel was forbidden to pray, he disobeyed and consequently was “cast into the lion’s den.” According to the biblical account, the lions were more observant of God’s law than of the king’s, sparing Daniel’s life. King Darius recognized that the will of Heaven had overridden his own and ordered Daniel released. His own scheming counselors were then thrown in, and the lions devoured them. The story is celebrated in a Sunday-school children’s song, “Dare to Be a Daniel.”
In this fall’s football season, will some high-school girl in Texas “dare to be a Daniela” and utter a prayer over the loudspeaker at a game? If so, this deed will challenge both the judiciary, whose imperious will would thus be thwarted, and the educational authorities, who would be expected to act as tire Court’s agents and wreak vengeance on the would-be Daniela. But how could this be done? There is as yet no law against such a prayer in Texas. Indeed, if there were one, it would seem to violate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, historically considered inviolable (except, perhaps, where prayer is concerned). Our legal tradition respects the principle nulla poena sine lege (“no punishment without law”), but in this case punishment would be expected, if not inexorably exacted. After all, it is possible that the educational authorities in Texas would defer to the legal principle of nulla poena and permit the young Daniela to go unpunished. If so, how far would the procession of Daniels rise before being confronted by the majesty of the Supreme Court and cast into the 21st century equivalent of Darius’s lion’s den?
Those whose goal is the eradication of every trace of reverence toward Cod from America’s public stage relentlessly seek to absolutize the “principle” of the separation of church and state, a principle not found in the Constitution but extrapolated from the words “no law respecting an establishment of religion” in the First Amendment. In so doing, they ignore the words that follow, which forbid “prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Those who prefer to respect the freedom of religion rather than to squeeze from the text a fraudulent freedom from religion should not make the mistake of supposing that mere symbolic expressions of reverence for God—such as prayers at football games or in schoolrooms, Bible reading in classes, or Christmas creches in hallways—contribute significantly to the religious devotion of the public. What we must not fail to see, however, is that their prohibition and suppression does something that Scripture and history warn us not to do: to refuse to honor God or to give him thanks (Romans 1:21). As a nation, we have failed to heed this warning, obeying instead the dictates of an imperious judiciary. As a result, we are already experiencing the consequences described in Romans 1:28, in which we read that “God gave them over to a depraved mind.”
The effects of being given over to a depraved mind are becoming increasingly evident in die disintegration of our social order. They will never be reversed unless, as a people, we come to realize that, in matters such as these, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). It is extremely unlikely that a judiciary intoxicated with its own power will ever approve of such an injunction. It is hardly more likely that legislators beholden to polls and accustomed to subservience to the courts will do anything to improve the situation. If our moral decline is to be reversed, it will have to be by those few who, perhaps one by one, will dare to be Daniels and Danielas.
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