25 June 2007

Falwell's Vengeance

That vicious, bigoted old rat (that's the nicest characterization I can think of for the recently departed Jerry Falwell, who gets no reverence from me whatsoever) was 3 for 3 this morning at the Court. It was not a good day for anyone who is not a member of Theocracy Now! the Religious Wrong Right. I'll have more analysis in a couple of days — particularly on the free speech issues that are interwoven in all three opinions — but here are a few lowlights.

  • It's pretty clear that a sense of humor is not required of public-school administrators. (Anyone who has actually attended a public school could attest to that... and, unfortunately, that's a minority of the current Court, and as far as I know none of their offspring.) In Morse, the Court held (5 to 4) that a high-school student "attending" a school-sponsored event, but off school property, could be disciplined for displaying a banner proclaiming "Bong Hits for Jesus." Ask yourself this question: Would the administration have made the same poor judgment call if the banner had said "Bong Hits for Cthulhu"? How about "Bong Hits for Satan", or "Bong Hits for Allah"?

    Ultimately, one hidden problem in this case is arises from the undue evidentiary deference paid to the school administrator's interpretation of the banner. It resembles all too much the D&X decision a few weeks back, with undue deference paid to Congressional "factfinding." I must have missed the part of Con Law in which "the judicial power shall be vested in a Supreme Court" got qualified by "except when some moron in another branch of government says otherwise."

  • It's even more clear that organized religion does, in fact, have a special privilege to state its viewpoints. Both Hein (the taxpayer-standing case) and Wisconsin Right-to-Life eventually turned on questions of access to public advocacy, in a governmental context, by persons espousing a specifically religious viewpoint. Wisconsin RTL is a much closer case than is Hein, at least in my judgment; the problem is that its reasoning brings back the spectre of the "super-duper precedent" that both the Chief Justice and Justice Alito danced away from in their respective confirmation hearings.
  • And, speaking of Hein, it never really grapples with the critical question: Is the right to be free from government establishment of religion a right without a prospective remedy? That's what it seems to be saying: That there is no harm from a program expressly designed to allow so-called "faith-based organizations" (and one must question whether any Muslim organizations have been given favored status... or, rather, not question at all) to the polity at large, but only to individuals who are somehow unable to avoid direct and actual consequences. That is both inconsistent with the remainder of First Amendment jurisprudence — which, for each other clause, includes substantial doctrine on "chilling effects" (if not always so termed) — and incredibly disrespectful of anyone not sharing the particular views in question.

And meanwhile, the Georgia AG is trying harder to keep a young melaninically enhanced man in jail for consensual sex than he does for wife- and child abusers. But I shouldn't be too surprised; Georgia is, after all, the state that gave us Bowers.