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Best unknown U.S. judge
by Jake Highton
Mar 27, 2010 | 704 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Few Americans can name one Supreme Court justice let alone name any U.S. district or appeals court judge.

But here’s the name of a federal judge to memorize: Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. He and Supreme Court Justice Stevens are the best and wisest judges in America.

This has long been true because of Reinhardt’s keen rulings for many years, rulings often overturned by a third-rate Supreme Court. But his superiority became obvious recently when a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled constitutional the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The court, in a 2-1 decision, said the phrase invokes patriotism not religious faith. It said the flag salute was “a recognition of our Founders’ political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights.”

God a patriot rather than a religious belief? God a bestower of inalienable rights? More nonsense pulled from the rotten barrel of the right-wing.

The word God is not in the Constitution although many people think it is. The words in the pledge were added during the Cold War and Reign of McCarthy.

Dissenting, Judge Reinhardt saw through the judicial pettifoggery. He noted that statements made by congressional members who altered the pledge wanted to indoctrinate “school children in the belief that God exists.”

Reinhardt quoted lawmakers denouncing “atheistic communism” and declaring that belief in God is part of “the American way of life.”

President Eisenhower solemnly intoned: “To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate the rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning.”

After Ike signed the bill in 1954, lawmakers celebrated by reciting the new pledge, glorifying the nation and praising the Almighty. During the celebration a bugler played “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”

Reinhardt pointed out that the revised pledge offends Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans, spiritualists, humanists, secularists, agnostics and atheists.

He concluded that the court had abandoned the “historic principle that secular matters were for the state and matters of faith were for the church.”

The altered pledge violates the “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment. That the Founders wanted this to be a secular nation is clear from Article VI of the Constitution. It says: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”

Even in wartime 1943, when patriotism was at a peak, Justice Robert Jackson declared: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism or religion.”

Heroes and saints

Is there a better religious publication in America than the Catholic Worker?

The question mark undermines my usual certainty about matters. But since I do not read the religious press, those who do might name one or two publications that are better.

Nevertheless, to make my case I offer into evidence Exhibit A: the March-April issue of the CW. It gives prominence to two men, Father Damien, already canonized, and the other, Archbishop Romero, who probably will be after the glacial sainthood process.

Damien ministered and labored for 15 years at the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. He gave residents spiritual and material comfort, offering the sacraments, changing bandages and helping lay sewage pipe, build churches, dormitories and orphanages.

Damien died of leprosy at the colony in 1889. Robert Louis Stevenson rightly called him “a saint and a hero.”

Romero was assassinated March 24, 1980, while celebrating mass in the chapel of

Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador.

Romero spoke for the poor and the marginalized. He stressed “the dignity of the human being.”

He denounced social injustice. He denounced the murderers, assassins and terrorists acting for the El Salvador government. And he denounced President Carter for approving U.S. military aid to his obscene government.

Indeed, his support for Liberation Theology, demanding Christian deeds rather than Christian words, put him in the crosshairs of the Vatican.

In his final homily the night before he was slaughtered with an M-16 assault rifle, Romero appealed to the troops of the government national guard: “No soldier is obliged to obey a command which goes against the law of God. No one is required to comply with an immoral law. Recover your conscience and obey that.”

No wonder many Salvadorans called him San Romero.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at jake@unr.edu.
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