Ghosts in Brennan’s Constitution oath?

Various media reported that new CIA chief John O. Brennan swore his oath of office last week on a Constitution that didn’t contain the Bill of Rights. And, given his strenuous support of the U.S. drone program — which has killed thousands of people, including a few Americans — stories focused on the lack of the fifth amendment’s guarantee of due process. But I wonder if there wasn’t a religion angle there. I’m honestly not sure. Here’s how The Guardian wrote up the news:

CIA director John Brennan swore the oath of office Friday on an original copy of the constitution, the White House announced, which at first sounds pretty cool.

Better than a Bible – everybody does the Bible. The copy is from 1787, and it apparently has George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations on it and everything. They keep it in a protective manila folder, visible in an official photo of the moment.

So far, so charming – except for one detail:

The founders were quick about the Bill of Rights, ratifying them in 1791. But the constitution was passed without them. A pre-ratification draft of the constitution certainly would not have included them. The fifth amendment’s guarantee of due process before the law? Brennan’s wife’s not holding it and Brennan ain’t swearing on it.

It’s not like the document you swear on matters. None who swear on the Bible are bound thereby to keep the sabbath. You could swear on Our Bodies, Our Selves, probably. The book is just a symbol that the oath-taker is being serious.

As a symbol, though, in this particular case, given that the oath-taker is the man in charge of choosing those people who don’t qualify for due process but instead must be executed immediately – in this case it might not have hurt to stick a copy of amendment number five in there.

Obviously not everyone “does” the Bible when swearing or affirming an oath. And swearing on Our Bodies, Our Selves might not be a symbol that you’re being serious. But is the only interesting aspect here that Brennan swore or affirmed (I’m not sure which) on an original copy of the Constitution?

I’m not talking about the conspiracy theories swirling about some dark alleys of the internet. They originate, I believe, from former FBI agent John Guandolo. He says that Brennan “secretly” converted to Islam while he was stationed in Saudi Arabia. Some might say that the media should have covered this allegation but allegations of dramatically “secret” conversions need much more substantiation for media attention. Particularly when you’re talking about a former spy.

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Got news? Judge ‘mocks’ Obama’s religious-liberty move

The most control the media have in the news process is determining what stories get hyped and which get hidden, which get a ton of coverage and which get downplayed. A week or so ago, I read on the editorial page of the Washington Examiner about a rather juicy ruling by a U.S. district court judge. He said that the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the HHS mandate may proceed.

Judge Brian Cogan mocked the “accommodation” on religion liberty outlined by President Obama in regards to his health care law’s contraception mandate while ruling against a Justice Department motion to dismiss the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the regulation.

“There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” Cogan wrote in his ruling against DOJ. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction.” …

As Cogan noted, though, the rule has not formally been changed.

I figured I’d look at the mainstream media news coverage once it came out. You might not know it from the curious way the media have covered this story, but there are dozens of lawsuits working their way through the courts on religious liberty claims against the mandate. Some reporters and media outlets scare-quote this as a “religious liberty” issue or otherwise downplay the religious liberty concerns. Here’s a judge saying the religious liberty concerns are legit. Surely we’ll see coverage.

But have we? Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote about the media coverage in his latest blog post:

Did you hear about the decision last week by U.S. District Court Judge Brian M. Cogan in the lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare, (the agency coordinating our Catholic healthcare in the archdiocese) and three plaintiffs from the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, against the administration for the unconstitutional HHS mandate?

You probably did not, as there seems to have been virtually no mention of the decision – in favor of the archdiocese, by the way – in any local newspaper or on television.  As far as I can tell, and I’ve looked rather carefully, there hasn’t even been a story in the New York Times, which couldn’t wait to publish an editorial this past October, admonishing the bishops, when a federal judge in Missouri found for the administration and dismissed a similar case brought by a private, for-profit, mining company.   (The Times also didn’t have much to say last week, when the appeals court temporarily blocked the bad Missouri decision the Times had gushed over.)

Judge Cogan’s decision last week turned back a motion by the administration to have our lawsuit dismissed.  You’ll remember, perhaps, that back in May, the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, and Catholic Health Systems of Long Island filed a lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn, one of more than two dozen similar lawsuits filed around the country that day.  These lawsuits argue that the mandate from Health and Human Services would unconstitutionally presume to define the nature of the Church’s ministry, and force religious employers to violate their conscience or face onerous fines for not providing services in our health insurance that are contrary to our consciences and faith.

The judge’s decision doesn’t settle the case, but allows the case to proceed so that it might be heard in court…  That’s significant, because the administration has been successful in getting some of the other cases dismissed, but in his decision Judge Cogan found that there was very real possibility that we plaintiffs would “face future injuries stemming from their forced choice between incurring fines or acting in violation of their religious beliefs.”

And what of the administration’s contention that the suit should be dismissed because they were going to change the HHS mandate to address the concerns of religious employers? As Judge Cogan wrote, “…the First Amendment does not require citizens to accept assurances from the government that, if the government later determines it has made a misstep, it will take ameliorative action. There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution.”

I couldn’t believe that Dolan’s claims were true. Had the New York Times really not covered this, even briefly? What about other national media?

Well, this GoogleNews search shows the story was much bigger among Catholic, conservative and pro-life press than secular media. I didn’t find it in the Times.

There were wire reports from Bloomberg and Reuters, however. So kudos to them. The Reuters story is quite good.

As for why so few covered the court’s decision, not even the local paper that bills itself as the newspaper of record? I can’t begin to presume the answer to that.

Photo of judge’s gavel and scales of justice via Shutterstock.


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