Oh Roy Moore, you delightful little publicity hound. Alabama’s Chief Justice is no stranger to making ridiculous pronouncements about what he thinks the law is despite all evidence to the contrary. Most recall his earlier stint running the Alabama Supreme Court, which ended in an ethics ruling after the Chief wasted around half a million in taxpayer dollars fighting — and then willfully violating — court orders seeking removal of the Ten Commandments from the court. It turns out when judges encourage disrespect for the rule of law it’s an ethical violation.
It was all so ludicrous. Even Moses removed his Ten Commandments display.
But Alabama being Alabama, the voters returned Moore to the post of Chief Justice. Roll Tide.
Over the weekend, video surfaced of his latest round of nonsensical ramblings. And while the comments about the First Amendment are certainly shocking, he also goes off on abortion and inadvertently lends support to Roe v. Wade in the process….
If you’re wondering how the First Amendment’s language “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion could be read narrowly to apply only to Christianity, then you’re in luck, because the jurist (and maybe we should put that term in quotes) has an ironclad explanation. He gets into it around the one-minute mark:
If you’re not in a position to watch the video, it’s basically originalism kicked up a few notches of glue-sniffing hilarity:
Buddha didn’t create us, Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scriptures. They didn’t bring a Qur’an over on the pilgrim ship Mayflower. Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history, let’s stop playing games.
The Founders were Christians, so obviously that’s what they meant by “religion.” The problem is that, much like every other strain of originalism, Chief Justice Moore is less concerned about original intent than in concocting a revisionist historical narrative that supports a modern political agenda. He even name-checks James Madison as someone who would have defined the freedom of religion as limited to Christians to bolster his alternative history with a mythic standard-bearer.
James Madison disagrees:
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?
If that isn’t enough of a guide to the plans of the Founders, Thomas Jefferson’s account of the passage of the Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom (drafted soon after Madison’s above comments) is pretty damning:
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
At the 4:30 mark, Chief Justice Moore begins his chuckle-worthy abortion commentary. He’s a big fan of Blackstone’s work and rues the fact that secular law schools overlook this legal giant. Specifically, Moore loves Blackstone’s take on abortion. Basically this section of the speech boils down to “life begins at conception because Blackstone said life doesn’t begin at conception and… something, whatever, abortions are bad.” Blackstone wrote:
Life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature in every individual; and it begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.
Hm. Isn’t quickening something that happens at some point in the second trimester? So abortion in the first trimester is fine and in the second trimester is more tricky? Like the logic of Roe v. Wade? Chief Justice Moore’s attempt to bridge this problem is to argue that Blackstone would have defined life from conception if the technology had been available, which is stupid. Not to diminish the advance of science, but it’s not like Blackstone thought the stork was bringing kids. His generation knew how babies got made and Blackstone’s language reflects the then-accepted (and accepted long after) affirmative break between a pregnant woman and a woman whose infant was alive “in contemplation of law.” There was a healthy cottage industry in Blackstone’s time of publishing abortion-inducing potion recipes for mothers in the early stages of pregnancy. Thankfully, fidelity to real-life history is not the Chief’s mission.
Can’t we all be honest? Just say you have intolerant views on religion and are pro-life instead of pretending Anglo-American legal history provides any support for either. And then I realize I’m asking someone who was already booted from his job for ethical violations to be honest.
Let’s part with a warning from James Madison from A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments:
Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.
The words of the Founders really do resonate today!
Alabama’s chief justice: Buddha didn’t create us so First Amendment only protects Christians [Raw Story]
In the Matter of Roy S. Moore [Opinion Available via Fox News]