by Steven Yates by Steven Yates

On October 20, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore spoke to a small group at Willow Ridge Church in Lexington, S.C., and later, delivered the keynote address before a packed house at the Second Annual Banquet of the Columbia-based Frontline Ministries, Rev. E. Ray Moore Jr.'s project. Justice Moore's topic was "America's Christian Heritage." Justice Moore outlined again why his placing the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama State Judicial Building in Montgomery did not violate the First Amendment, and why his refusal to remove it in the face of a federal judge's order did not violate the rule of law.

Here is the issue: can the state acknowledge God without violating the supposed wall of separation between church and state? Can the State of Alabama acknowledge God? Can South Carolina acknowledge God? Can the United States of America acknowledge God?

Justice Moore's answer: resoundingly, Yes, in all cases! Working through the Foundation of Moral Law Inc., he has gone so far as proposing to place his monument in the U.S. Capitol building.

To review the case, on August 1, 2001, Chief Justice Moore had placed the 5,200-pound monument bearing the Ten Commandments along with inscriptions of a number of this country's founding documents in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building. Before the end of October, two separate lawsuits had been filed against Chief Justice Moore by plaintiffs with the backing of three left-leaning organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. They charged that the acknowledgement of the Christian God implicit in public display of the Ten Commandments was "offensive" and unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In August of this year, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the monument's removal. Chief Justice Moore stood his ground even when his colleagues instructed him to remove the monument. Finally, as August drew to a close, the monument was physically moved from its public location on the rotunda and placed in the equivalent of a closet. Justice Moore and his attorneys have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision from the Supremes on whether to hear the case is expected in November.

What makes this case both interesting and important, as I reported in an earlier article, is how it illustrates the clash between the two worldviews vying for dominance in Western civilization. I discussed these worldviews under the names Christian theism and materialism (or materialistic naturalism). One can use the term secular humanism for the latter, although strictly speaking, secular humanism is an ethical consequence of materialism. There are, of course, quite a few different ways of cashing out such claims, as the history of modern philosophy abundantly testifies. There are also multiple variants on Christian theism, which is why we have different denominations of Christian churches. But I am more concerned with similarities than differences. All versions of Christian theism place a single Supreme Being, God at the center of existence both metaphysically and morally, and regard the universe (and humanity) as created rather than self-existent or byproducts of natural (material) processes. All modern versions of materialism – at least by implication – deny the existence of a Supreme Being. According to materialists, the universe is self-existent. Human beings originated from a natural process with no thought or planning behind it; our conception of ourselves as moral agents was part of this process. Morality being a tool for survival, it calls for no theological justification and has no transcendent significance.

It seems clear enough from history that the U.S. was founded by Christian theists in this broad sense, not materialists. The Framers did not agree on every point of theology, of course, but at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Christian theism was an integral component of what was soon to become the cultural life of a unique land. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," began the Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." When the Constitutional Convention of 1787 opened, George Washington invited the convened to trust that "the event is in the hands of God!" Washington's Proclamation of 1789 that created the Thanksgiving Holiday, began, "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor." In 1797, Washington would say, "Religion and morality are the essential pillars of society."

Samuel Adams had said, in Rights of the Colonists (1772) that "the natural rights of the Colonists are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can…. The rights of the Colonists as Christians may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament." John Quincy Adams would say later that "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity." Perhaps Adams' best-known statement came in 1798: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." This sheds light on Benjamin Franklin's remark about the importance of education – ominous in light of the past hundred years of the gradual dumbing down of America: "A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins."

The "wall of separation between church and state" was thus never intended as a complete separation between government and Christianity, much less the complete removal of Christianity from public life. Its intent was to forbid government from creating a state-sponsored church along the lines of the Church of England. The idea of separating church and civil government, Justice Moore points out, was not invented by Thomas Jefferson in his famous letter. It is implicit in Scripture itself, in passages such as Jesus Christ's admonition to "render … unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21, KJ) The Ten Commandments themselves acknowledge that church and government are different institutions. The first four commandments involve our duties to our Creator (e.g., "thou shalt have no other gods before me"); the other six involve our duties to each other (e.g., "thou shalt not steal"). The first four are carried out in church; the latter six become the foundation of civil society and the basis for the rule of law.

Justice Moore explained all this with two illustrations, one depicting the Christian theist perspective of the separation; the other depicting the materialist or secular humanist one. The first places God at the center. Under God – separated from one another because they serve different functions – are Church and civil government. Thus the separation between church and state. The second places Man at the center. It then conflates the Church with God in order to replace the former with the latter in our consciousness, resulting in the sort of separation between God and public life that the Framers wanted to avoid. In other words, separating Church and state is not equivalent to separating God and state. Reams of legal documentation now rest on the refusal to recognize this distinction.

Therefore either federal or state governments can acknowledge God without violating the First Amendment or any additional edict to separate Church and state (since this edict does not appear in the First Amendment). Justice Moore was right. Those who forced the removal of the monument from the rotunda of his courthouse were wrong. He defended his actions: "I'm ordained, and sworn, to uphold the Constitution of the United States…. The rule of law is not what a judge says it is. When a judge takes the law into his own hands, he becomes a tyrant."

We thus have to ask, with Justice Moore, who has the real power in our country? What is the supreme secular authority? Is it the Constitution? There are cases on record – numerous and growing – of judges forbidding any mention of the Constitution as they hear cases! The Constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of the land. Modern doctrines such as the "living Constitution" essentially reduce the meaning of important statements in the Constitution such as the First and Second Amendments to whatever the Supreme Court says they mean or whatever federal judges say they mean. In effect this makes the Supreme Court and federal judges supreme civil authorities, not the Constitution. We might as well not have a Constitution at all!

In my earlier essay I proposed that societies adopting materialism as a worldview, whether tacitly or explicitly, tend to become more and more tyrannical. It is important to understand: I'm not saying that materialism causes tyranny. There are tyrannies grounded in theistic ideologies, too (e.g., Islam); there were tyrannies long before the rise of distinctively modern forms of materialism, obviously. Tyrannies arise when men attain unlimited power. One of the manifestations of sin in the lives of these men is their lust for power. What the gradual adoption of materialism in the West has done is loosen the ties between morality and Christianity that formed an important bulwark of limited government, placing a firm check on those motivated by power. To paraphrase John Quincy Adams from above, limited government is only possible when the vast majority of people can be counted on to live morally sound, upright lives – within their family units and otherwise. Such a citizenry will not put up with unscrupulous politicians. Christianity provided the moral basis and educational framework for a free society. To make a very long story short, none of the secular moral theories proposed by Western philosophers hold up under sustained scrutiny. The historically most important based morality on structures of human reason (Kant) or on the pursuit of the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number (Mill). But what the idea that morality is exclusively a human or natural phenomenon does is something the Framers were very aware of: it loosens the chains of those whose primary interest is power.

In another recent piece, on the Iraq War, I proposed that the primary problem of political philosophy is not how to build the ideal society but how does society control power? How, that is, do individuals who want to be free bind those who want to take away their freedoms, and still preserve justice? A subsidiary question for those for whom moral philosophy is not an academic game: how does society control vice? More specifically, how do individuals control vices resulting from powerful sexual urges, dishonesty in both government and the workplace, sloth, etc., under circumstances when "thou shalt not get caught" becomes the only operant commandment? Traditionally, the answer has been: a strong nuclear family – not government. But today, the nuclear family is under a direct and concerted attack, whether the source of that attack is easy divorce or the homosexual lobby. The bottom line: freedom in civil society – liberty – is not the freedom to do whatever we please. Freedom comes with specific responsibilities. When individuals feel free to act in any way they please, liberty will quickly diminish, replaced by either anarchy or statism. My argument has been that materialism indirectly encourages both tyranny and a culturally-destructive hedonism, whether intellectuals promoting materialism want those consequences or not.

Whether we call it materialism, secular humanism, or something else, this latter kind of thinking permeates government schools from kindergarten up through state-sponsored "research universities." It permeates our mainstream media, the entertainment industry and our legal system. This is why homeschooling has become the fastest growing education movement in the country. This is why movies such as Mel Gibson's new film The Passion, depicting the life of Jesus Christ reverently, are raising eyebrows. A lot of entertainment industry moguls are doing whatever they can to block that movie. This is why our legal system, with one Supreme Court decision after another for the past 50 years, has more and more interpreted the phrase separation of church and state to mean that acknowledgements of God must be completely excluded from the government schools and the public square.

Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson, a long time supporter of Justice Moore, recently observed: "The issue in Alabama is not simply about a 5,300-pound monument depicting the Ten Commandments in an Alabama courthouse. It is about the right of the people of that state, and indeed, the people of this entire country, to acknowledge God in the public square…. If we fail at this moment of destiny, we will become a secularized nation like Canada or the continent of Europe, whose laws are based on secular humanism, or worse, on postmodernism, which holds that there is no truth, no basic right or wrong, nothing good or bad, nothing evil or noble, nothing moral or immoral. Law then will be a whimsical standard that shifts with the sands of time….

I am all too aware that not everyone reading this is a convinced Christian. Many libertarians are not, having been influenced by various Enlightenment doctrines about reason, the perfectibility of man, and such. However, I am convinced – and not just because of my own Christian beliefs but because of these in light of my own detailed studies of philosophy, history and economics – that what Christian groups such as Frontline Ministries, and individual Christians such as Justice Moore are opposing is a fundamentally pernicious worldview, something that will eventually doom Western civilization if it is not rolled back. No one, Christian or otherwise, can seriously maintain that we as individuals are as free in America as we were 50 years ago, or even that men and women were as free 50 years ago as they were 100 years ago. We have been on this slippery slope for a long time. Under the influence of the materialistic and humanistic doctrines that underlie both the welfare-warfare state and our increasingly hedonistic culture, we are moving in the wrong direction at a rate that is accelerating. Sooner or later – hopefully before it becomes too late! – we all have to start drawing lines in the sand, just as Justice Moore has done.

October 25, 2003