"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who Would You Rather Believe?

Listening to an Evangelical preacher, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas on my way to work this morning, I was a little surprised to hear him talking about Joseph Story, he of the famous Constitutional commentary and an early Supreme Court Justice.

I only caught the tail end of Jeffress' talk, which was apparently an argument that the First Amendment has been twisted beyond recognition, and that in fact the US is a Christian nation. Jeffress cited Story as holding that

The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects [denominations] and to prevent any national ecclesiastical patronage of the national government.
What I found interesting was not so much the obvious fact that the founders considered this a Christian nation, and in no way intended the First Amendment to become a weapon against public, even government-sponsored expressions in favor of Christianity, forbidding only the "establishment" of any particular denomination.

No, what made my Catholic ears perk up was Jeffress' argument to his congregation, which was (in close paraphrase): who would you rather accept as an authority in figuring out what the Constitution means, and what its framers intended--a Supreme Court Justice and scholar who was only twenty years out from the passage of the Bill of Rights, and personally knew the Framers of the First Amendment; or the ACLU?

Now the answer to that question is self-evident.

But the mode of argumentation directly echoes St. Thomas More in his writings against the heretics of his day, which was (again paraphrasing):

who should one accept as a sure authority in controversies about doctrinal matters and the deposit of the Faith-- the Holy Fathers who were living and writing in first years after Christ, some of whom knew the Apostles themselves; or Martin Luther and his like, who after 1500 years now purport to have discovered "true Christianity"?
Justice Story, of course, is a more authoritative voice for discerning the view and intent of the drafters of the Bill of Rights, than the ACLU (who, in addition to being 200 years after the event have an ideological ax to grind) for the exact same reason the Church Fathers are more authoritative sources for the meaning and understanding of Christian doctrine and practice than a Luther and other "reformers" (who, in addition to being 1500 years after the event had personal, moral, or intellectual axes to grind).

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