Theocracy Watch II: Judicial Tyranny Edition

The forces of theocracy are on the march, and Daylight Atheism is keeping a close eye on them. First, an article from the March 3 Legal Times, Alabama Judge Declares War on U.S. Supreme Court:

Sitting calmly in his impeccably neat office at Alabama’s Justice Building, state Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker does not look like a man at war with the U.S. Supreme Court.

…Last month, Parker wrote an op-ed in The Birmingham News, attacking the high court’s “blatant judicial tyranny.” The case that had gotten him roaring was the outcome in 2005′s Roper v. Simmons, which tossed out the death penalty for inmates who were under 18 at the time of their crimes.

…In the column, Parker called for what could be considered an act of judicial sedition. Because Roper was based, he wrote, on the application of foreign law (a notion its author, Justice Anthony Kennedy, would dispute), it was an “unconstitutional opinion” that his Alabama colleagues should “actively resist.”

…”State supreme court judges should not follow obviously wrong decisions simply because they are precedents,” he wrote.

If this article reminds you of another belligerent, disgraced Alabama judge, you’re not alone. Parker’s case has more than a little resonance with the infamous demagogue and unapologetic theocrat Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of Alabama, who was removed from office in 2003 after placing a massive Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building and then openly defying a higher court’s order to remove it. Moore has spent most of his subsequent time trumpeting his own martyrdom and planning to run for governor in 2006, although his chances seem slim. (You may compose your own quip about how far out there Moore must be for even Republican voters in Alabama to find him unappealing.)

The staggering hypocrisy of the religious right is on full display here. Despite their ceaseless complaints about alleged “judicial activism”, in reality they are the ones who are both practicing (in Moore’s case) and advocating (in Parker’s case) the doctrine of judicial activism. Conservatives apparently advocate the idea that school boards, lower courts, and legislatures (via the idea of “court stripping”) should openly defy decisions with which they disagree. Pressing for constitutional amendments to overturn unpopular rulings is one thing, but the religious right appears to be on a rampage to throw out the whole pesky idea of checks and balances, so long as it allows them to ram through the ideas they favor. It need not be said that conservative judges who decide to disregard any precedent with which they disagree exemplify judicial tyranny at its worst.

Sadly, tyrannical conservative judges are also responsible for our next item: a repulsive string of rulings in which atheists were denied custody of their children, or ordered to take their children to church, on the grounds that religious people are morally superior to nonbelievers. I wish I could say that this was a joke. This sort of medieval thinking, which should long ago have been thrown on the junk-heap of history along with blasphemy laws and religious test oaths, still exists today. Again, this is true judicial tyranny: deciding that a parent’s exercising their constitutionally protected right to speak and believe as they wish makes them unfit guardians of their children. (I should note, in the interests of fairness, that not all conservatives support this odious idea. Andrew Sullivan, who brought this to my attention, and Eugene Volokh, who wrote the article cited by Sullivan, are both conservatives. Then again, they are also both atheists.) [CORRECTION: A commenter has brought to my attention that Sullivan is not, in fact, an atheist. I apologize for the error.]

It is unacceptable that this can be a factor in which parent gains custody of their child. As Volokh’s article makes clear, this state of affairs only exists because the current standard is what is in the “best interests of the child”, an extremely vague standard that allows the presiding judge wide latitude to camouflage their personal opinions as law. If, for example, the state in which a custody battle is taking place is highly Christian, a judge can rule that it is in a child’s “best interests” to be raised as a Christian so that they can better fit into society, and deny an atheist parent custody on those grounds. Even more offensive, a judge can apparently give an atheist parent custody but forbid them from mentioning or advocating atheism in the presence of their child, on the grounds that doing so would be “confusing” and therefore not in the child’s best interests. (http://www.childcustody.net/29.html gives atheist parents the following ringing declaration of support: “I suppose it is true that atheists have rights too”).

Such rulings trample the First Amendment and raise the frightening specter of children being taken away from atheist parents, even outside of divorce cases, because it is not in their “best interests” to hear such speech – theocracy at its most overtly intrusive. Volokh’s proposed solution is eminently sensible: in custody cases, allow the banning of speech whose sole intent is to turn the child against the non-custodial parent, but otherwise forbid judges from using the constitutionally protected opinions of parents as grounds to grant or deny custody, just as a parent’s race cannot be grounds to grant or deny custody. America’s allegiance to the ideals upon which it was founded demands nothing less.

Finally, I leave you with this thought, from a column written by a Christian pastor named B.M. Colvin and published in the Azle, Texas, Azle News Online:

“Although we live in the greatest Christian nation in the world our character and culture is declining in many ways…. Non Christian religions are infiltrating our society and schools.”

As we all know, the one unmistakable proof of a nation’s moral character is that it only allows one religion to exist within its borders. But we have strayed from that ideal and allowed people of different beliefs to “infiltrate” our society, using such devious, underhanded tactics as buying houses, getting jobs, sending their children to school, and voting. (What sort of liberals let this happen, anyway?) Clearly this has put us on a greased slide to Hell. We must stem this tide of moral decay; I recommend gathering up all non-Christians and imprisoning them in camps for starters.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    That is one of the most disturbing pieces of info I have seen in a long time. I am glad to have heard about it, and I will be sure that anyone I regularly speak with will know about it. The throwback to the dark ages is much more advanced than I thought…

  • TheLastChance

    Lovely. Just lovely.

    “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
    ~Leviticus 25:10

    “Comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”
    ~1 Thessalonians 5:14

    “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?”
    ~James 4:12

    I think someone forgot a few bible lessons…

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    Wow. Absolutely agree with BlackWizardMagus – that is deeply disturbing. One would think such parents could appeal though, in Britain such a case would probably ultimately go to the European Court of Human Rights, wouldn’t the Supreme Court similarly be able to overturn those decisions?

  • BlackWizardMagus

    Yes, however, sometimes it might get appealed and overturned, but that it’s still bad that that has to happen. Or, the Supreme Court might not take the case; they have the authority to choose which cases they will hear and which they will not. I would hope that they would hear it, but then again, it is staffed by 5 Catholics, 3 Protestants, and a Jew, if I remember right. 8 are men also. We have both advantages and disadvantages over european courts, and this is a definite disadvantage.

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    “We have both advantages and disadvantages over european courts”

    Advantage One: It wouldn’t take ten years ;-)

  • BlackWizardMagus

    This isn’t a debate for courts now. And I admit; as an American, I have spent much more time studying our courts than yours. Something I should rectify but, y’know, we’re pretty lazy too.

  • Slythe

    Enjoyed the post, and, like most of the other posters, the custody battles boiled my blood. One little nitpick I have is that Sullivan is actually a Catholic, which makes his highlighting of the issue all the more remarkable.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Andrew Sullivan isn’t an atheist? I was under the impression that he was – I guess I was wrong. I don’t know where I got that idea from. Thanks for the correction.

  • Kennypo65

    If anything can convert one to atheism, it’s being Catholic. Trust me