Circuit Court Judge Ashley McKathan must be a clever fellow. Nothing publicly separates true, moral believers from the howling liberal heathens like forcing Democrats to be seen hiding biblical passages. Little raises the heat and energy of righteous conservative indignation more than motiviating the rank-and-file religious right to defend the sacred Word of God from evil non-believers.
Just in time for the first tough issues debates since the election. The first big fight of Bush's second term....social security. By design or not, the close-to-depleted tank of far-right fuel can be replenished for new national issues fights by Judge McKathan's adroit baiting of the law and horrified press.
George Bush earned "political capital" in his decisive election, but he's already spent some on passing intelligence reform legislation, the arrogance of Donald Rumsfeld and on the wasteful, failing war in Iraq. Defense-of-the-Bible incidents serve to create more far-right political capital for the President. George Bush defending his Almighty Father, even if Mr. Bush had nothing to do with the whole hullabaloo.
Rather like waving a red flag at a bull, Judge McKathan is begging authorities to make him a revered Christian martyr of the judicial circuit. Remember how appalled we all were that young French women were ordered to remove their Muslim head scarves? That they couldn't publicly exercise freedom of religious expression on their own persons?
The judge is aching for the same confrontation. He and his cohorts would love nothing more for Christmas than for him to be challenged about his manner of dress. Imagine the indignant press conferences.....the photo-ops of Judge McKathan displaying the offending robes.....of protestors surrounding the courthouse, chanting to save the Bible. Ahh...Santa Claus would be hard-pressed to find a more appreciated gift for conservative Alabama judges.
I know that separation of church and state is a deep and complex issue. I realize that too close a relationship between church and state corrupts the church, perverts religious teachings, and it violates cherished democratic rights to freedom of worship. I don't mean to treat separation of church and state lightly.
Regardless of media blather, this is not a constitutional issue with clear-cut, easy answers. Currently, four federal circuit courts and one state Supreme Court hold that displays of the Ten Commandments are constitutional, while three federal circuit courts have ruled them unconstitutional.
But it is really so terrible that the Ten Commandments hangs on a courtroom wall, or is emblazoned on clothing? Versions of the Ten Commandments are basis of law and wisdom for both Christianity and Judaism (although presumably Judge McKathan would only post Christian words). Sure, it opens the door for displays of passages from other major religions. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with displaying a passage from the Koran? Sections of the Torah? Words from the Teachings of Buddha? A proclamation from the Roman Catholic Pope?
Snippets of morality from a myriad of religious sources might actually speak to courtroom inhabitants. It might provide moments of inspiration, strength, enlightenment during times of stress.
And get real.....they're just words on a wall. Gold letters on clothing. They're not violence or poverty or hunger or homelessness. They're not 45 million American children and adults without health care coverage. They're not discrimination. They're illumination. They're merely words for the reading and wisdom for the taking. If you don't want to read them, don't! Avert your eyes. Turn your head away. Save your venom for real issues.
My hope? That the uber-conservative judges who so desperately want to display the Ten Commandments READ THEM. That they open their minds to truly "hear" the words, and that they, at last, take them to heart.
Besides, if ignored, this becomes a non-issue. Merely a quirky judicial fashion faux pas, like Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist's chevrons on his otherwise austere robe.
If we make a big fuss about Judge McKathan's robes, it will surely come back to bite us in collective, conservative moral outrage again. Just like the good judge wants.