Book Review: Contempt: How the Right is Wronging American Justice

A Warning Flare over the March to Theocracy

Revolution #025, December 4, 2005, posted at

Catherine Crier is a former Republican judge from Texas and currently hosts a show on Court TV. She introduces her new book, Contempt: How the Right is Wronging American Justice, this way:

"In the wake of the Terri Schiavo debacle, I wanted to write a book in defense of the federal court system and its judges and to explain how, though imperfect, the system has evolved very much as its founders intended.

"But I don't want that anymore. Now I want this book to be a wake-up call, a warning flare, a political stun grenade that provokes the silent majority of this country to stand up and take notice … For all of those Americans who believe that our democracy is safe, you are wrong. Today, the radical Right is winning, and they know it. Sooner rather than later, we may be living in a very different country, a country that had been ours, a country that will be theirs."

Crier writes that "The extreme Right has conquered the executive and legislative branches of government, but it has not been able to bring the federal courts to heel--yet." She also writes that "[The extreme Right’s] leaders have taken an entity that innately resists politics and turned it into a highly politicized battle zone" (p. 2). Whether or not you fully share this analysis of the courts, her alarm call of the way the the judicial branch is now being stacked with right-wing ideologues and its power being limited in a way she calls dangerous, in order to serve what she identifies as a "very scary" political agenda, is significant, and makes this book an important read.

The Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Crier devotes a chapter to the "Four Horsemen" (the name, taken from a Washington Post article, refers to the Biblical notion of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--those who will usher in the end of the world and the last coming of Christ). Crier writes, "Taken together, they represent every side of the ultraconservative battle for the federal judiciary" (p. 102). Former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese represents the political connections; wealthy businessman C. Boyden Gray brings in the funding and the connection to other wealthy donors. Leonard Leo is the Executive VP of the Federalist Society, a group that provides much of the theoretical concepts (such as the doctrine of "originalism," meaning a supposedly strict interpretation of the Constitution--more will be said on this), and Jay Sekulow, founder of the American Center for Law and Justice--a Christian Fascist version of the ACLU, which has nearly double the ACLU's membership and budget. Every week, this group holds a conference call to check on the progress of their agenda; prominent members of the Bush administration (such as Karl Rove) can often be found on the line.

Roy Moore is an illuminating example of how entrenched Christian Fascism has become. He was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama when he installed a 5,200 pound engraved granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the judicial building of the state capital (he was later stripped of his judgeship for refusing a court order to remove it; many Christian Fascists cite this as an example of the oppression of their religion). Crier notes that Moore once wrote a paper that called for the death penalty for "practicing homosexuals" and claims that only evangelical Christianity fits the definition of an actual "religion" as far as the Constitutional right to practice religion is concerned. He has planned a run for governor of Alabama, and Crier cites polls indicating that he is likely to win.

Tearing Down Formal Separation between Church and State

To legally declare that there should be no separation of church and state, that such a separation would violate God's mandate, would make this country an open theocracy, in the model of countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia--but it would be the most economically and militarily powerful theocracy in the history of the world. This is exactly what the Christian Fascists want. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in a 2002 speech that "Government … derives its moral authority from God… The reaction of people of faith to [the] tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should [be]… the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible."

One of the many ways that they shore up moral and historical legitimacy for this goal is in the argument that the "Founding Fathers" (people like Madison, Jefferson, and others) actually intended for the United States to be a Christian nation. As evidence, they argue that the Founding Fathers themselves were Christian, and that references to God are all over their original documents and letters. In Chapter 12, Crier argues this claim is based on rewriting history that at times takes absurd turns: Some Christian Fascists have argued that since Thomas Jefferson signed "In the Year of Our Lord" at the end of his presidential letters, that meant he was embracing God from the presidency … and therefore he intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation. Crier points out that what Jefferson was writing was, in Latin, "Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christo"--otherwise known as "A.D." He was using a formal Latin way of stating the year. Crier argues that the Constitution was written to guard against theocracy and the establishment of an official state religion. Whether or not you agree with her interpretation, you cannot ignore the fact that a society based on the laws of the 18th century would hardly be a society most people today would want to live in. Crier does point out that many things that many people consider basic rights were not contained in the original Constitution--rights for women, Black people, protection against discrimination, etc--and many practices that most people consider illegitimate were legally enshrined in the original Constitution, not the least of which is slavery!

Strategy for a Theocracy

"It's not in the sense that we're getting everything we want, but we have a strategy. … I've got an agenda if you will. I’m utilizing the courts to achieve that goal. You don't go from A to Z. You go from A to C, D to M, and eventually to Z."

Jay Sekulow, quoted in Contempt

"Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors--in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."

D. James Kennedy, Dominionist and Christian Fascist preacher at Coral Ridge Ministries, whose TV show reaches 3.5 million people weekly

"'Our public schools began as ministries of the Church … Now it is time to return them to the Lord."

Jay Sekulow, quoted in Contempt,p. 269

The Constitution Restoration Act (CRA) was introduced into Congress in March of 2005 by Congressman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama. If passed, it would establish that the Supreme Court is not permitted to issue any rulings that get in the way of a public official's acknowledgement of God "as the sovereign source of law, liberty, and government � The acknowledgment of God is not a legitimate subject of review by federal courts" (quoting Roy Moore from a Christian news site--emphasis added). This ruling would open the floodgates for public schools and buildings to be plastered with Christian imagery and propaganda, but it would have far worse implications. This is nothing less than a wedge to force Biblical law into the law of the United States.

One way for the CRA, if passed, to allow the Bible to be woven into U.S. law would be that a judge can decide that their "acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law" includes being required to follow God's law--and whatever fascist social programs go along with it. (Roy Moore would certainly agree.) One example of God’s law, from Deuteronomy 22:23-24:

"If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her, then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; [including] the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city."

In Chapter 18, "Public Bible School," Crier writes that "State by state, public campuses have been forced to open their doors to born-again ministries that aggressively covet grade-school souls." One of the main drivers of this are the so-called "Good News clubs," with 4,500 chapters all over the country; as soon as the school bell rings, they take over the buildings for after-school religious clubs. Crier states that when school districts refuse, the Good News clubs invoke a 2001 Supreme Court decision allowing such clubs, and school districts are forced to comply.

The response

Contempt is an important book that has not been read widely enough. Some of the response is illuminating: when CBS News interviewed Crier on The Early Show in September, commentator Harry Smith asked her if she were worried for her career. In other words, today, writing a book that aims to defend bourgeois democracy can make you a target for persecution by those who are pushing things toward a theocracy. This is an indication of how far to the right the terms of things have been set, and how much work is needed to really radically and urgently shift the terms of debate.

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