I’ve been absent for a week or so, and will be for a few days more. However, before I hop on a plane, I thought I’d quickly comment on what a remarkable week it has been for the constitution.
I hesitate slightly before continuing to write negative things about the government, because you see, I am now classified as someone who, despite paying large amounts in taxes, despite being married to an American, and hence having large numbers of extended family in the U.S., despite working for an American employer, and despite loving my “Mom”, enjoying baseball, and being partial to a nice slice of apple pie, can nevertheless be whisked away without a moment’s notice, and detained indefinitely, having no right to challenge my detention. I can, in essence, be disappeared by my own government. Yes, the passing of S. 3930 – “A bill to authorize trial by military commission for violations of the law of war, and for other purposes” – by a 65-34 Senate vote will be judged harshly by history, should there be any of us around to do the judging.
Hot on the heels of this disgusting, terrifying, embarrassing and deeply saddening piece of legislation, our leaders have now passed another absolute corker. While our troops are in Iraq, fighting, we are supposed to believe, against religious extremists who hate our democracy and freedoms, here at home plans are moving ahead to edge this much-touted democracy closer and closer to a theocracy, in which the religious (well, let’s be honest, Christians really, and only certain kinds of them at that) are a privileged class.
The most recent move in this direction is The Public Expression of Religion Act – H.R. 2679. This says, and I paraphrase, that while the constitution is the basis of American democracy, and applies to all citizens, you should get a break if you violate it to force your religion on someone. That is to say, breaking the law in the name of religion is less of a crime than breaking it if you are, say, hungry, or without shelter.
As Erwin Chemerinsky says in The Washington Post, this bill
… provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorneys fees. The bill has only one purpose: to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.
Chemerinsky goes on to point out that
The attorneys’ fees statute has worked well for almost 30 years. Lawyers receive attorneys’ fees under the law only if their claim is meritorious and they win in court. Unsuccessful lawyers get nothing under the law. This creates a strong disincentive to frivolous suits and encourages lawyers to bring only clearly meritorious ones.
and concludes correctly that
Such a bill could have only one motive: to protect unconstitutional government actions advancing religion. The religious right, which has been trying for years to use government to advance their religious views, wants to reduce the likelihood that their efforts will be declared unconstitutional. Since they cannot change the law of the Establishment Clause by statute, they have turned their attention to trying to prevent its enforcement by eliminating the possibility for recovery of attorneys’ fees.
Well, on that sad note, and with my bile rising, I’m going to pack my bags. I’m off to Australia in the morning, for three weeks. I will be a Sir Thomas Lyle Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and plan to work hard and have a great time. I should be able to resume regular posting while there, so I’ll try to provide some discussion of physics (and food and wine) down under.
Three weeks is a long time in U.S. politics. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that, when I return, the passport control discussion doesn’t go like:
Agent: “Where have you been on this trip Sir?”
Agent: “Was it business or pleasure Sir?”
Me: “Some of both”
Agent: “How long were you out of the country Sir?”
Me: “Twenty one days”
Agent: “One last question Sir; have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?”