Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Banning Muslims – Knee-Jerk Reactions vs. Critical Thinking

Donald Trump has recently announced that as president, he would use executive order to ban Muslims from entering the country temporarily.

As an atheist, I feel all religion can be dangerous if taken to extremes. But that being said, there can be no doubt that around the world, in the 21st century, the overwhelming majority of atrocities committed in the name of religion are committed by people of the Muslim faith.

Any time a tragedy happens, we as a people tend to believe we should try to analyze the problem that caused the tragedy and fix it. If the problem is too big for any one of us to fix, the non-libertarian population often feel government should fix it for them.

But let’s apply a little critical thinking to Trump’s idea of banning foreign Muslims from entering the United States.

How exactly do we go about banning all Muslims? If a Muslim applies to come to America, do the authorities ask that Muslim if they’re Muslim?visa_application_rejection[1]

While an honest Muslim might answer truthfully, knowing it would preclude them from coming, wouldn’t a radical Muslim intending to kill Americans, or a desperate but peaceful Muslim hoping to flee a war-zone,  just lie to get into the United States?

Quite similarly to the “If guns are outlawed, only criminals will have them” argument, if Muslims are banned from entering the United States, only deceitful Muslims will enter.

There is no DNA test that tells you what religion someone is—religion isn’t genetic. There is nothing science has to offer to detect one’s religion.

Lie detectors have been proven time and time again to be faulty at best. Even physiologist John Larson, Ph.D., one of the early inventors of the lie detector, regretted ever inventing the device. Before his death in 1965, he stated, “Beyond my expectation, through uncontrollable factors, this scientific investigation became for practical purposes a Frankenstein’s monster, which I have spent over 40 years in combating.”

Joe Larson administering a Lie Detector test
Dr. Larson administering a Lie Detector test

The 1st amendment states that, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

By the letter of the Constitution, the president could in-fact pass such an order, because it isn’t Congress passing a law, it’s the president passing an executive order.

So while some have put forth the constitutionality argument, I would have to argue it is a non sequitur.

U.S. Constitution: 1st Amendment
U.S. Constitution: 1st Amendment

But, the Supreme Court continues to allow Blue Laws which are clearly an establishment of religion, proving the letter of the Constitution isn’t always their ultimate guide.

So it’s quite possible that the Supreme Court would strike such an executive order down based on the “principles” of the first amendment, versus the letter of it, as they tend to err on the side of secularism these days—something I typically appreciate.

The Supreme Court Of The United States
The Supreme Court Of The United States

So now we understand that if Trump wrote such an order, there’s no way to know who is and isn’t a Muslim. Even if the Supreme Court didn’t strike it down as an executive order, if Congress tried to pass it as law, it would most assuredly get struck down then.

But also, it is important to consider that even if such a law did somehow evade the Supreme Court’s wrath, and scientists invented a Muslim detector that really worked; when exactly is “temporary” over?

We’ve been fighting the war on terror since 2001, and it’s not like there are any fewer radical Muslims killing people. While the radicals may be a small minority at best, if he’s passing such an order to eliminate the threat, the threat won’t be eliminated until all Muslims are dead—an idea I assume most people would not support.

Because much like it’s impossible to identify a Muslim with any certainty if they choose to hide it, it’s equally impossible to identify a radical Muslim hell-bent on killing innocent civilians they deem to be infidels deserving of death.

Hopefully, Trump and his supporters will come to their senses and realize this isn’t a workable plan, and instead look for ways to better screen all people coming into the United States. But they should also understand that with freedom comes danger, as illustrated by our gun laws—something most Trump supporters do support, and anyone else who is serious about liberty.

So if we’re OK with one danger, we should be OK with the other, lest we be hypocrites.

While I don’t claim to have the answer; if we’re seeking one, I’d at least like to know there’s a bit of logic and reason behind the ideas being proposed, because this one has very little.

“If you see something, say something,” is a much simpler notion, it’s something we can all do to help government officials find these people. Exercising our 2nd amendment rights to arm ourselves so we can take down any would-be killers in our midst if we encounter one is pretty simple too.

Both are far more likely to be effective and far more doable than Trump’s entirely unworkable notion.

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Why Do We Only Complain About 2/3 Of Government

We libertarian-minded people often complain that presidents are ruining our nation or that congress are passing unconstitutional laws infringing on our rights. But oddly, you rarely hear complaints about the Supreme Court.

They work just as much as congress does, and with Obama’s golf game in high gear, it seems like they likely work more than him. So why is it that people complain ad nauseam about congress  and the president, yet give SCOTUS a pass?

Golfer-In-Chief: President Obama
Golfer-In-Chief: President Obama

We all know about National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, where Chief Justice John Roberts famously provided the majority decision to treat the Affordable Care Act’s penalty as a tax, therefore accepting the legislation as constitutional, despite the fact that Sebelius’ side specifically argued it was to be a penalty and not a tax.

The administrations reason for calling it a penalty was largely political so that Obama would not be deemed as a willing participant in raising taxes on all Americans, including the poor.

So why would SCOTUS rule in such a way as to effectively rewrite law?

Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts
Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts

Sadly they shouldn’t have—the Constitution is quite clear. I accept that the idea of questioning SCOTUS from my layman’s Constitutional perspective seems mighty ambitious, but the Constitution enumerates quite clearly that the Supreme Court’s duty is to adjudicate laws on the basis of their constitutionality, in so doing, setting precedent for lower courts to follow.

Writing law is strictly the job of Congress, and therefore Roberts and the majority. were out of line. They should have just rejected it as it was, and let congress rewrite and repass it in a more Constitution-friendly form.

A million other op-ed writers have elaborated on this case well enough that I feel any opinion I would write would be redundant, so I am instead going to focus on the idea that much of our ire at government in general should be directed at SCOTUS.

First things first, let’s look at their oaths of office. (Yes, there are two.)

The Constitutional Oath

“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.  So help me God.”

The Judicial Oath

“I, _________, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________, according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution and laws of the United States.  So help me God.”

If we break this down, it is clear that their personal opinions shall be suppressed, and rulings should be given solely based on what is contained in the Constitution and U.S. law.

Chief Justice Roberts Being Sworn In
Chief Justice Roberts Being Sworn In

There are two potential views on this. There are absolutists who feel the Constitution must be adjudicated as written. That rulings should be based solely on the verbiage of the Constitution, not what SCOTUS justices believed the legislature meant when writing it.

Others believe that the Constitution is a living document where justices are free to rule with the Constitution as their guide, but have license to issue judgments based on what they feel the framers of our Constitution may have meant. But this interpretation essentially allows for SCOTUS justices to rule however they want, so long as they can fabricate some story, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, to align their opinion with the framers’ intentions.

But clearly this makes the Constitution virtually irrelevant if we think this way, as it essentially means that SCOTUS is only limited by individual justice’s imaginations.

For example, in McGowan v Maryland, Sunday closing laws (blue laws, as they’re known) were challenged as a violation of the 1st amendment; the argument being that they were clearly a law establishing religion.alcohol1[1]

However, the courts ruled that the law was secular in nature and these communities were simply enforcing a day of rest. They ignored that the chosen day was Sunday, which aligns with Christian dogma, and contradicts Jewish dogma, infringing on the Jewish people’s own rights to work on Sunday.

If the justices had been absolutists, the law would have unquestionably been struck down with its clear religious underpinnings. But those who held this decision instead opted to find a way to allow it, despite the Constitution’s concise forbidding of laws establishing religion, because at the time, Christian opposition to overturning such longs would have been quite great. All people want to be loved, including Supreme Court justices I guess, their oath-of-office be damned.

Since the Constitution doesn’t address absolutism versus interpretationism specifically, sadly SCOTUS justices may take either tact at any time.

I find this notion troubling as it seems clear to me that the Constitution’s framers did not intend for this by virtue of the way the Supreme Court is set up.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

Firstly, the Justices are appointed, not elected. Then once appointed, they are never reelected or reappointed; they’re a Supreme Court Justice until they retire, do something criminal, or death does them part.

The purpose of this is to ensure that they never make a decision based on popular opinion, nor make a decision based on what the legislature or the president who may have appointed them might want.

If Justice Sotomayor for instance, were to rule against Obama in every constitutional challenge he were to be involved in, despite the fact he appointed her, there is no recourse he has. Once she’s confirmed, her decision shall not affect her job status whatsoever. It’s the only true way that she makes her decisions, no matter how unpopular that decision may be, with sole regard to the constitutionality of it—assuming they adhere to their oaths.

This is the very point of the Constitution in general. Many forget we are not a democracy, but a republic. We have our Constitution, and thus SCOTUS, to protect the rights of the minority from the majority. By definition, there is no point in SCOTUS’ nor the Constitution’s existence, if government is simply to side with popular opinion.

The Supreme Court Of The United States
The Supreme Court Of The United States

So the very act of considering congress’ or the people’s opinions when ruling on the constitutionality of something is a violation of the Constitution’s core principles. So in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, it was not the majority opinion’s right to essentially work with congress and the people to find away to allow an unconstitutional law.

While this was a landmark case, the fact is, this reasoning should apply to a majority of laws in the United States. The Tenth Amendment alone should be grounds for striking much of federal legislation. It states as follows:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

This essentially states that unless the law in question is of a subject matter that the Constitution defines as a federal issue, or forbids the states from legislating on, the law must be a state issue, or a matter between the people.

NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and the DOE (Department of Education) are all effectively precluded via the Tenth Amendment. Where does the Constitution mention traffic, the environment, or education? (Hint: It doesn’t).

So while we lambaste congress and the president for violating our rights, let’s not forget that SCOTUS has the ability, and more importantly, the duty under the Constitution, to be the last line of defense of our rights—something they don’t seem to take too seriously these days. If anyone should know better, it’s them. Their forbidding of cameras in the courtroom, and rare amount of interviews given have kept them out of the limelight, likely by design. But I say let’s make sure we’re pissed at them too.

I’m rather Blue over Sharia Law

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

In 2010, a legal decision in New Jersey incited national debate when Judge Joseph Charles decided not to grant a restraining order to a Moroccan woman who had been raped, according to legal standards in the United States, by her ex-husband. The reason given was that the judge accepted the Muslim man’s argument that under Sharia Law, he had done nothing wrong, and that ruling against him would violate his religious rights as enumerated in the 1st amendment.

As a result of this ruling and the potential for others like it, several states across the U.S. enacted anti-Sharia law statutes, including Oklahoma. However, after Oklahoma’s “Save Our State Amendment” passed, it was overturned by a higher court due to its targeting of one specific religion, specifically Sharia law, again citing that such a law violates the 1st amendment.

Judge Charles was wrong in his decision, but Oklahoma legislators reacted wrongly as well, and the higher courts were charged with making it all right. Many conservatives were upset the Save Our State Amendment was overturned, but they shouldn’t have been. If a statute can lawfully target the Muslim faith, one could lawfully draft laws targeting Christian faith as well.shariah-law[1]

American legislators define American law in their respective jurisdictions. There should not be a need to specifically exclude Sharia law, because unless Sharia law verbiage happens to be on that jurisdiction’s register, it should never be considered in the first place. The exception being in civil court where Sharia law may have been part of a contract.

Rape is not excusable under U.S. law because of religious views, so Judge Charles simply made an improper ruling that needed overturned—no additional legislation needed. If the man had killed his wife in an honor-killing, would the judge still have come to the same conclusion?

While I applaud Oklahoma and other such states attempting to take measures to prevent this in the future, the higher courts are there to reverse such decisions, and there are mechanisms in place to remove judges who go afoul of the law they are charged with adjudicating. Oklahoma didn’t need to amend their state constitution, they merely needed to deal with a judge violating his oath to uphold it.

If they truly felt it was necessary to elaborate, the Oklahoma legislature could have simply wrote something to the effect of the following:

The criminal court of Oklahoma may not consider laws which are not specifically on the United States Federal Register, Oklahoma State Register, or any applicable local registers as an argument for innocence or guilt.

It is succinct, and doesn’t target any single religion.

However, there’s a deep hypocrisy here with many conservatives. A majority of them are Christian, and they were the ones most vocal about prohibiting Sharia law, yet they often have no qualms about legislation such as blue laws or the proposed Defense Of Marriage Act.

Blue laws have curiously stood up to constitutional challenges because proponents have argued that while they were enacted as a way to force people to conform to a religious doctrine of the Sabbath, it can also be viewed as merely the government in question, ordering a day of rest, and does not necessarily have a religious component, making it okay.

Somehow the Supreme Court agreed—but how? It’s not a day of rest, it’s a day of not being able to buy alcohol. If they closed down all business on Sundays, then and only then would it be a forced day of rest.

SundayAlcohol[1]

More important, what business does government have telling you when to rest  in the first place? Why not tell me when I have to go to bed then? Maybe force me to take a nap too, while we’re at it.

As for the Defense of Marriage act, it is entirely contrary to the purpose of the Constitution. It was never intended to be a dictionary to define something such as marriage, nor was it intended to tell the people, in this case the gay community, what rights they have. One look at the Bill of Rights and it’s clear that it was written to define limits to the federal government, not the people. The Volstead Act (Prohibition) was the first attempt at perverting the Constitution in such a manner, also largely based on religious doctrine, and that was rightfully repealed a short time later. All such acts imply the government has the power, not the people.

As for blue laws, the supreme court did something in declaring these laws constitutional that I think violates their oath of office.

The Supreme Court Of The United States
The Supreme Court Of The United States

The Supreme Court Justices are sworn to uphold the Constitution, not the will of the majority. If we were a democracy, a system where only the majority opinion mattered, instead of a republic with a Constitution, we would have no need for them.

But we have a Constitution, and it exists to protect the rights of the minority from the majority. The Supreme Court is charged with interpreting it as written. What the SCOTUS did was find away to allow the majority to deny rights to the minority (atheists like myself), instead of judging these laws on their merits against the Constitution.

In so doing, they undermined the purpose of them being appointed, not elected, so that they don’t act on popular opinion. They behaved like legislators instead of guarantors of our rights.

Christians upset about Sharia Law arguments being allowed in criminal courts are absolutely right to be upset. But they must cease to endeavor to make American laws congruent with Christian doctrine also, or they are no better than the cause they are fighting against—hypocrisy destroys credibility.