Who's Afraid of Madalyn Murray O'Hair?
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This book is not about Madalyn Murray O´Hair. It may help to exorcise her pale wan ghost from our legal system. She really doesn´t amount to anything at all. She is irrelevant. There is nothing to be afraid of. But so many people don´t know that.
This book IS about who our laws belong to, and what our federal Constitution really means. Understanding the law is not the monopoly of lawyers, judges, elected officials, or people with advanced graduate degrees. All of those have an important role to play, but in a democratic republic, the law belongs to all of us. There is no reason that each and every American citizen cannot understand, and contribute to, the shape of our laws. That is especially true of our constitutional law - the supreme law of the land.
One book can´t cover everything in constitutional law. It can´t even introduce everything. This book provides some simple introduction to Supreme Court cases, and federal appeals court cases, on the role of religion in public life. That means digging up court rulings from around 1869 right up until 2005. Really, the government and churches do have to interact with each other in all kinds of ways. Why? Because "We are a religious people, whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." (That was written by Justice William O. Douglas in 1952. It has never been abandoned by the Supreme Court in all the years since).
A consistent line of principle
There is a consistent line of principle to be found in Supreme Court cases developed over at least 150 years. Each chapter helps to present what those fundamental principles are, using the words of actual Supreme Court opinions. Of course, the author relies on his own reading of these cases. The author offers some original thoughts on questions the courts have not fully resolved. Most important, this is a book on how to find, and read, the actual words of court rulings. Not what the newspapers squeeze into an article, not what the opposing lawyers shout into the microphone, after the decision comes down, but what the court really said, in full. There is an appendix which provides some longer cites from actual cases, for readers who want to read for themselves. There is a chapter on how to find cases, in law libraries or on the internet, for readers who really want to read it all for themselves.
To understand the law, we do not need to rely on news reporters, analysts, or fundraising letters from interest groups. Those all have an important role to play, but neither God nor man authorized them to do our thinking for us. None of them tell us a complete story. Perhaps they cannot, perhaps they do not want to. It doesn´t really matter what their reasons or motives are. No citizen needs to depend on these sources alone.
Good News: Read it for yourself
We can read federal court decisions for ourselves, think about what the courts wrote for ourselves, and come to our own conclusions about what it means for our lives and our country. There is a lot of very good news available to those who read what the law really says, instead of believing everything we hear on the street.
There are a few common sense solutions to problems that have taken us around and around in legal circles without ever seeming to arrive anywhere. For example, how to offer a simple prayer before a football game without putting the school superintendent in the position of Establishing a religion. It´s really very simple - Justices William O. Douglas, Potter Stewart, and Antonin Scalia have all pointed the way, and so has Justice Sandra Day O´Connor. People who don´t want to hear it don´t have to. People who want to hear it can do so, or even say "Amen" at the closing. It is not necessary to sneeze in unison for a commencement speaker to say "God bless you."
Here are the chapter headings, an outline of what is waiting for each reader:
- Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
That is the real wording from the First Amendment. "Separation of church and State" is a small piece of the pie, but it is not the language of the Constitution.
- Our Children Are Not Mere Creatures of the State
Do you know what Supreme Court case that phrase comes from? See what it was about, and how it has been applied.
- Using Public Schools for Evangelism
This is where it started to get sticky, but don´t take any atheist´s or televangelist´s word for what the law really means.
- Giving to Caesar What Belongs to God
This chapter provides a reverent explanation of why Mrs. O´Hair is a self-serving liar, what the Supreme Court really ruled, and why school administrators still can´t get it right.
- A Tangled Tale
We all know that it is hard to tell how the Constitution really applies to the details of daily life that end up in court. Here is a slice of what made matters of faith and law so complex.
- Voluntary Worship In Public Schools
It´s not new, but the Supreme Court had to go back and make it clear: of course students have a right to pray in school!
- What´s Your Problem? It´s Christmas!
This chapter comes close to comedy, because the subject can get so silly. But there are some sound principles buried in here.
- The Ten Commandments Cases
The Supreme Court just sorted this one out, but its good to look at some local cases behind the big decisions. Its also good to compare what Scalia, Souter, O´Connor, Stevens and Breyer each had to say.
- Oxymoron in the Court
This is a unique analysis of a controversial decision by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, some errors of logic, and some applications of the church autonomy doctrine to matters of marriage.
- Common Sense Solutions to Endless Controversies
Here are a few suggestions on how to freely exercise faith in a public setting without Establishing a religion on anyone else´s toes.
- Look It Up For Yourself
This is a good book, but don´t take my word for what the law is or what it should be. This is a chapter on some of the easier ways to look up federal court decisions for yourself.
Read more on related topics at Fundamentals
Siarlys Jenkins is, of course, a pen name. The purpose of a pen name is not to keep the author’s real identity secret. Anyone who wished to, could easily find out. The name draws on the author’s Welsh roots and maternal grandfather’s family tree. Everyone knows that Lewis Carroll was really a mathematics professor named Charles Dodgson. The purpose of a pen name is to provide for a separation between daily life and the status of author. This author, unlike the folks in the American Express commercial, does not wish to be recognized everywhere he goes.
The author who chooses to publish under the name Siarlys Jenkins is just past 50 years old, descended from a long line of serfs, born in Connecticut, raised in Wisconsin, and has lived in New York, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland, with shorter sojourns in the Carolinas, and Illinois. His ancestors were English, Welsh, Dutch, Jewish (east-European – leavened with some blonde-haired blue-eyed genes from either mixed marriages, or from centuries of rapes during pogroms by German and Russian neighbors), eastern Cherokee, probably some Africans who ran away with English indentured servants from Virginia to Tennessee, and most likely a few other nationalities or ethnicities unknown. About three quarters of these ancestors arrived in North America since the Civil War. One great-great-grandfather from east Tennessee fought in the United States Army from 1861 to 1865; this branch of the family has traditionally voted Republican.
Jenkins is a generalist, not an expert. He has a high school diploma, a smattering of college courses, and three decades experience at free-lance word processing, copy editing, advocating for people seeking to establish disability claims, knocking on doors for everything from election campaigns to membership drives, volunteer participation in what our great-grandfathers called “labor agitation,” serving as the token Protestant at a Catholic Worker house, and throughout, a voracious appetite for reading on almost any subject. Contrary to rumor, he has NOT memorized the Periodic Table of the Elements, but has been known to carry a copy in his wallet in case it’s needed.
Raised Presbyterian with a Jewish name in a Catholic neighborhood, the author has also attended services at Baptist, Roman Catholic and Wisconsin Synod Lutheran churches, as well as Holiness, Church of God, and Church of God in Christ. Why? Invitations from friends, elderly colleagues who needed someone to take them, work on community projects with church members. There was something good in each of them. He currently belongs to one of the many Methodist denominations that have grown up in the United States, and has served for a year as local church historian.
Despite five years of effort, Jenkins is a complete failure at getting state courts to recognize that prisoners eligible for parole have a right to be seriously considered on the merits of their current accomplishments, rather than summarily denied based on the crime they were convicted of. Not trained or licensed to practice law, Jenkins has been recognized by a dozen or so convicted felons as an able research assistant, having easier access to law libraries and some ability finding references therein. Inspired by Isaiah 25:4 and 42: 5-9, he remains confident there was some purpose to this effort, although appellate courts remain as hard-headed as they are hard-hearted. If asked to name one Christian he admired most, the answer would undoubtedly be Karla Faye Tucker.
Jenkins also has experience at photocopying, filing, data entry, cataloging private book collections, driving a bus, and frittering away time at meaningless temp jobs, for departments in large bureaucracies that don’t want next year’s budget to be reduced. His greatest literary accomplishment to date is publication in 1993 of “A Thousand Ages in the Lab” by The Door Magazine – probably the world’s only evangelical Christian humor magazine. He has also gotten rave reviews for unpublished manuscripts on the history of the United States from inmates of Racine Correctional Institute in Wisconsin, and from church brothers in the D.C. area who remarked “If that’s true, they’ll never allow it to be published.”
Jenkins has been paying close attention to debates about the authority of science and Scripture for many years, but has been unable to find any conflict. This book is not the product of rigorous academic study. It has sort of emerged from a series of conversations. One conversation began with a sermon preached one warm summer Sunday morning, on the theme that every word in Genesis is true, so the theories of science are false. Another conversation ranged from the teachings of the Ethiopian Coptic Church to the exhortations of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries to the latest anthropology on human origins from the Science pages of the New York Times. A high school science teacher, who belongs to an evangelical Christian church, made some contributions. So did a graduate of Bob Jones University who is known to his friends as “the gay Christian.” There was the pastor inspired to denounce “Darwin’s dumb doctrine,” and the atheist who maintained that there was no Adam, therefore Jesus Christ was of no significance. There was a men’s fellowship, there were a few retreats, there were students from both public and Christian schools who needed help with their science homework. None of the above are named in the book.
This is not the first time someone has suggested that there is no conflict between science and Scripture. An unprejudiced reading of either one plainly shows them to be entirely consistent with each other. Galileo Galilei point out that these are two products of the same author. Scripture is God’s word, while science is the observation of nature, which is God’s creation. Why would the two be in conflict?
Jenkins hopes that by putting science into a Scriptural context, rather than using science to “prove” or “disprove” the authenticity of Scripture, a good deal of endless and fruitless debate can be drawn to a close. Having read widely in many areas of science, familiar with a good deal of history, and after several years of discussion with pastors of several persuasions, Siarlys Jenkins submits this modest volume to clear up the confusion.
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