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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Thursday, June 27, 2002  
HUGE VICTORY! School vouchers win! I haven't seen the the Supreme Court's opinion yet, but I do know that this victory could create the most significant education reform in a century and deal a shattering blow to those individuals (like Ninth Circuit judges) who have been trying -- for decades -- to push religion to the margins of American life.

7:46 AM

FURTHER REFLECTIONS ON THE PLEDGE. In the aftermath of the Pledge ruling, several colleagues (all lawyers) pointed out to me that the ruling is really "no big deal." The decision will most likely be reversed by the Supreme Court, and -- even if it is not -- the decision is not at all significant to our everyday lives. That analysis is correct . . . to an extent. However, I think many lawyers (including Eugene Volokh, one of America's most respected experts on religion clause jurisprudence) are missing the real impact of the decision on the non-lawyer public -- especially the Christian segment of the public.

For Christians, the Pledge ruling represents an easily understandable moment of clarity. Many Christians are vaguely aware that religious expression is under assault, but their awareness of that fact is generally limited to side issues -- like school prayer, the Ten Commandments on schoolhouse walls, etc. They are not aware of the real problems that people of faith face -- problems like the systematic exclusion of Christian professors from our nation's public universities; differing levels of academic freedom for Christian teachers in our public schools; the use of anti-discrimination rules to silence Christians at campuses -- and in the workplace; and interpretations of the Establishment Clause that allow religiously zealous liberals to use the full power (and funding) of government to preach their world view while denying Christian and other religious individuals equivalent access.

In recent weeks, I have given more than a dozen radio interviews promoting my book, and interviewers invariably ask the same question: "How can we get Christians to pay attention to these issues?" The answer is elusive. Most Christians -- truth be told -- don't really concern themselves with religious freedom issues. Sure, they routinely gripe about school prayer, but few Christians really care about our diminishing freedoms -- unless, of course, persecution knocks at their door.

The Pledge decision is useful because it serves as (yet another) wake-up call for Christian America. The decision's silliness -- and its clear inconsistency with prior Ninth Circuit precedent -- is both easy to understand and galvanizing to a Christian public that rarely pays attention to the nuances of Constitutional law. We may not grasp the fine points of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (a law now sometimes used to silence Christians in the workplace), but we do understand that some of our nation's courts have reached the point where they're willing to completely abandon the original intent of the framers of the Constitution and reject even the Pledge of Allegiance because of its passing reference to God. The Pledge ruling is simply a highly visible symptom of a serious legal and political disease.

Of course the Pledge decision won't mean much to the daily conduct of our lives, but it will, perhaps, motivate us to do something about a system that discriminates against religious expression. Last night, I heard the DJ's on our local Christian music station reciting -- with great emotion -- the Pledge of Allegiance. Callers were lighting up the switchboard expressing outrage over the decision. Have we finally awoken from our slumber?

However, in focusing on the Pledge decision, we should not lose the forest for the trees. Most Supreme Court commentators expect that the Court will rule today on the constitutionality of Cleveland, Ohio's, school voucher program. At one stroke, the Supreme Court could either revolutionize public education in this country -- and liberate religious expression from a generation of judicial suppression -- or it could chisel in granite the inferior status of religious speech. The voucher decision could very well be one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions of our time.

Stay tuned . . .

6:22 AM

Wednesday, June 26, 2002  
INTENSE HOSTILITY AGAINST RELIGION. Just hours ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation's largest federal appeals court, ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and cannot be recited in public schools. The full opinion can be read here. If you ever had any question that America's liberal federal judges have a deep and abiding hostility against religion -- specifically our nation's Judeo-Christian religious heritage -- this decision should remove all doubt.

The Court based its decision on the premise that "[g]iven the age and impressionability of schoolchildren . . . particularly within the confined environment of the classroom, the policy is highly likely to convey an impermissible message of endorsement to some and disapproval to others of their beliefs regarding the existence of a monotheistic God." The policy does no such thing. The lone dissenting judge's response is exactly right:

"[S]uch phrases as 'In God We Trust,' or 'under God' have no tendency to establish a religion in this country or to suppress anyone's exercise, or non-exercise, of religion, except in the fevered eye of persons who most fervently would like to drive all tincture of religion out of the public life of our polity. Those expression have not caused any real harm of that sort over the years since 1791, and are not likely to do so in the future."

The Ninth Circuit's alleged concern for the "impressionability of young schoolchildren" is particularly ironic considering the fact that this is the same court that recently ruled that it was perfectly acceptable for a public school district to use reading textbooks for first through sixth graders that not only introduced the Wiccan religion to children but also required those children to participate in Wiccan religious rituals. In that case -- Brown vs. Woodland Joint Unified School District -- the Court noted that the public school reading program "ask [ed]children to discuss witches or to create poetic chants. Some selections [of the challenged textbooks] also ask[ed] students to pretend that they are witches or sorcerers and ask[ed] them to role-play these characters in certain situations."

In response to this mandatory public education program, the Court held that "the coincidence or resemblance of the figures and myths of folklore to the practitioners and practices of witchcraft does not cause state use of such folklore to endorse witchcraft or to cause students to believe reasonably that they are participating in a religious ritual."

Participation in the pledge of allegiance was voluntary. Participation in Wiccan rituals was mandatory. Which government policy violated the Establishment Clause? The Pledge. The Ninth Circuit can write about neutrality, but its sentiments are nothing but words on a page. As President Reagan was fond of saying: "Facts are stubborn things." And it is simply a fact that some segments of the federal judiciary -- including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals -- have abandoned all pretense of neutrality and are now waging war on our nation's Judeo-Christian heritage.

Shameless pitch: If you have any interest in the judicial assault on Christianity -- and in an effective Christian response to that assault -- you really should buy my book. I discuss the Ninth Circuit's Wiccan decision -- and the legal framework that made that decision possible -- at some length.

1:56 PM

A SILVER LINING? As the news broke yesterday of yet another massive case of corporate fraud, I couldn't help but think that we are being shocked into a fundamental cultural realignment -- into a reevaluation of a decade that at first appeared to liberate us from antiquated notions of not only economics but also of personal morality. The list of corporate wrongdoers is long, and the consequences of their misconduct are severe. The Washington Post summed up the emerging economic mood: "The WorldCom revelation is the latest in a startling series of developments that have spawned new mistrust of corporate America and thrown into question much of the fantastic business growth of the late 1990s. The business world was already reeling from the collapse of Enron Corp., the conviction of Arthur Andersen LLP for obstructing the Enron investigation, and the indictment of former chief executives from ImClone Systems Inc. and Tyco International Ltd."

In each of these cases, corporate officers and executives protected their illusory prosperity with a bodyguard of lies and half-truths. Executives disregarded truth and fairness in their quest to cultivate the "masters of the universe" persona that characterized the go-go 1990s. From the President down to business leaders and even down to business students, the truth was less important than success and dishonesty was seen as barely relevant to ethics and morality.

Who can forget President Clinton's observation -- when faced with mounting pressure over his lies (under oath) in the Lewinsky affair -- that "we'll just have to win?" Who can forget a national leader who redefined "is" and continually maintained that he -- the perjurer -- was the true guardian of our constitutional government?

The truth-optional culture was hardly confined to the Chief Executive. According to a 1995 Cincinnati Post article: "An ethics survey of business students at colleges across the country has found that while most students considered themselves ethical, only 5 percent said they had never cheated in high school or college and less than 20 percent said they had never lied." (emphasis added).

With Americans being deluded into embracing the model of the ethical cheater and the successful liar, we roared to prosperity and exuded overwhelming confidence. Now, that prosperity has vanished, and our confidence has been replaced by suspicion and mistrust. We have relearned a lesson that is as old as civilization: Truth matters.

With Clinton's disgrace, Arthur Andersen's conviction, Enron's collapse and WorldCom's fraud, perhaps we will be shocked back into integrity -- back into a realization that immorality cannot be compartmentalized and not even the brave new world of technology and moral freedom exempts us from ageless concepts of basic fairness, justice and honesty. If the whirlwind of financial instability helps sow the seeds of cultural renewal, then at least there will have been some purpose to this economic pain.

12:19 PM

Tuesday, June 25, 2002  
SHORT MEMORIES. The Washington Post's Bill Cohen reports today on a conversation with Bill Clinton regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In the article, Clinton criticizes the Bush Administration for being too passive and says that it's a mistake that Colin Powell hasn't been more involved in peacemaking efforts.

Cohen ends the article with the following observation:

"You have to ask yourself if the problem is getting better if you leave it alone," the former president said. His answer -- apparent in newspaper headlines -- is no. "It's going to get worse if we don't get involved, that's for damn sure."

Hmmm, thanks, Mr. President, for your observation. My recent history may be rusty, but weren't you more "involved" in this issue than any President in history and wasn't the result that involvement the same war Bush is now trying to stop? While there certainly wasn't real "peace" in Israel or the West Bank in Januray, 1993 -- when Clinton took office -- it was certainly much more peaceful than in January, 2001, when Clinton left.

10:31 AM

BUSH GETS IT RIGHT. I'll admit it. I was nervous. During the several days leading up to yesterday's major Middle East policy speech, I was fearful that Bush would lapse into the language moral equivalence that has too often dominated discourse on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I was fearful that Bush's clear call for a Palestinian state would reward the terrorist violence of the past twenty-two months and give the Palestinians hope that continued suicide bombing would result in further concessions. I should have had more faith.

Reading the text of Bush's speech, I was struck by three things. First, he abandoned, once and for all, any pretense of moral equivalence. He clearly called for Arafat's ouster and conditioned every substantial move towards Palestinian statehood on Palestinian progress towards becoming a peaceful society. Second, he clearly stated that terrorism can only delay statehood, not hasten it. This is a key point. In the coming months, as the Palestinians inevitably continue their terror campaign, this terrorism-condemning language (combined with the clear call for Arafat's ouster) will give Israel more or less a free hand to crush the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. No longer will the Palestinians be able to use suicide bombing to coax American officials to rush to the region to broker cease-fires and interim truce agreements. If the Palestinians continue terror, they will be faced not with diplomatic discourse but instead with the might of Israel's army.

The third key point was Bush's clear warning to terrorism supporting states, including Syria. Palestinian terror cannot continue without external financial and military support. Here's the critical statement:

"Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel -- including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. Every nation actually committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups, and oppose regimes that promote terror, like Iraq. And Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations."

In recent weeks, we have learned that Israel was on the verge of a major attack against Syria that was stopped only by American pressure. The message to Syria is now clear: stop supporting terror, or we won't restrain Israel. America has now clearly and explicitly made Israel its ally in the War on Terror.

The Palestinians face a critical choice. They can either accept Bush's terms and turn away from the racism and hate that is gripping their culture, or they can choose death, despair and military defeat. They cannot turn to terrorist-supporting regimes for assistance because those regimes are now on notice that they must reform or be destroyed. Combined, Syria, Iraq and Iran are not even a match for Israel, much less the combined might of the American and Israeli militaries (arguably, the world's two most powerful armed forces).

I am not optimistic that the Palestinians will choose the correct path -- at least not immediately. I can envision the following scenario: The Palestinians launch a diplomatic offensive against the Bush plan while continuing the terror attacks. Although the State Department may try to coax Bush into softening his stance, I don't believe he'll bend. His credibility is on the line. As Palestinian attacks continue, our military buildup against Iraq will accelerate. Sometime late this fall -- or early next year -- we'll strike Iraq. Hussein, in his dying fury, will try to instigate a wider war by launching missiles at Israel (much like the Gulf War) and calling on terrorist organizations to strike against Israel and America. The terrorists (including Syrian-supported Hezbollah) will follow the script and launch renewed attacks against Israel.

At this point, I believe Israel would take the opportunity to strike hard against Syria -- Hezbollah's primary state sponsor. By Spring, 2003 -- after a short but extremely violent conflict -- the Middle East would be radically changed. Iraq would be occupied by American troops, Syria would be shattered as a military and economic force, and Iran (the most militarily formidable terrorist-supporting state) would be completely cut off, with American forces on its western (Iraqi) and eastern (Afghan) borders. Iran would have no choice but to stop its terrorist activities.

By this point, the Palestinians will have been ravaged by Israeli forces, stripped of all external support by the defeat of Iraq, Iran and Syria, and they will have no choice but to accept Bush's terms -- or continue to commit national suicide. I am, however, optimistic that the massive defeat of every significant Islamo-fascist power will have the same effect on the Arab Middle East that the massive defeat of the Wermacht and the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy had on Germany and Japan, respectively.

But things don't have to get that far. Tens of thousands don't have to die. The choice is in Palestinian and Arab hands. Bush made the stakes -- and the nature of the choice -- perfectly clear:

"This moment is both an opportunity and a test for all parties in the Middle East: an opportunity to lay the foundations for future peace; a test to show who is serious about peace and who is not. The choice here is stark and simple. The Bible says, "I have set before you life and death; therefore, choose life." The time has arrived for everyone in this conflict to choose peace, and hope, and life."

What will the choice be, Muslim Arabs? More hate and the resulting, inevitable defeat, or peace and the prosperity and freedom that will follow?

7:10 AM

Monday, June 24, 2002  
A WORD OF CAUTION. Time Magazine has a huge cover story on the incredible popularity not only of the Left Behind series of books but also of End Times prophecy in general. I have mixed feelings about the coverage. On the one hand, the (liberal) magazine's treatment of End Times thinkers -- like Tim LaHaye -- is somewhat respectful, and there is no question that the popularity of LaHaye's books has led millions of people to think hard about their relationship with Christ and God's sovereignty over the world. But, on the other hand . . .

Several years ago, I made a concerted effort to educate myself on various End Times scenarios and prophecies. First, I studied the prophetic scriptures without the aid of a study guide or other interpretive book. Then, I went to my local Christian bookstore to find a prophecy book by a reputable author so that I could compare my conclusions with his. I asked the store clerk to direct me to the End Times section. He took me to the back wall of the store, swept his hand across the wall and said "we have hundreds of titles." I quickly scanned the offerings. The covers were often startling -- depicting nuclear mushroom clouds, angelic beings, military aircraft, and the flags of various nations and nation-groups -- and many of the authors were familiar. I saw LaHaye. I saw Hal Lindsey. I saw Pat Robertson.

My next question stumped the clerk. "Now," I said "I want to read a book by an author who has not -- in a previous book or otherwise -- either predicted (and missed) the rapture date or made a major mistake in some other key element of his prophetic understanding." I knew this criteria eliminated Lindsey. He first predicted that the world would end in the mid-Eighties. However, I had no idea that this single, simple criteria -- I want to read a book by someone who hasn't already been proven wrong -- would almost single-handedly wipe out all my reading options. In fact, as the clerk scanned the store's offerings, he couldn't find a single book that met my requirements. Only after consultation with the store manager could he produce a single, reputable offering.

I tell this story not to condemn LaHaye, Lindsey, Robertson and others who have been wrong on past predictions but instead to inject a strong note of caution into our End Times hysteria. Anyone who even casually scans the phenomenally popular Left Behind series can't help but note that the vision of the End Times described in these books is incredibly detailed and comprehensive. Even though the books are fiction, the authors would state that they intend to convey real theological truth. Yet in this detail -- in this certainty -- lies the problem.

As I read contemporary prophecy books, I am reminded of another time and place where fascination with prophecy was a national fixation: Israel just before the coming of Christ. Trapped under the iron thumb of Roman rule, the Jews were crying out for a Messiah -- for a Savior -- and they were scanning the heavens and the scriptures for signs of his coming. When He did come, almost no one recognized him, and those were often most blind were the era's great scholars of scripture and prophecy -- the Pharisees.

I have sometimes heard Christians express disbelief that the Pharisees did not believe in Jesus. The Pharisees knew scripture, and they saw Christ work miracles. How could they not believe? I would submit that one of the reasons why the Pharisees did not believe was their absolute conviction that they had studied the scriptures and knew the nature of the Messiah. Jesus did not fit the vision, so he could not be the Christ. It simply wasn't possible. The Pharisees scanned the same Old Testament prophecies that we read, and (as we now know) those prophecies were all precisely and perfectly fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. They were simply fulfilled in a manner different than virtually every one of Christ's religious contemporaries predicted.

Once Christ came, the role of the prophetic scriptures became clear -- while they pointed to Christ's coming, they (obviously) did not serve to allow the mass of believers to predict Christ's exact nature and precise earthly role. However, they did serve to validate Christ's authenticity once he arrived. I sometimes wonder if the End Times scriptures represent the same dynamic. Rather than giving us a precise road map for the future -- the map marked out by the popular End Times prophecy scholars -- the scriptures instead point generally to Christ's return and then serve as precise validation as End Times events actually occur.

To describe what I mean, let me turn once again to the example of Christ's birth. In Old Testament prophecy, the Messiah was described (in different scriptures) as coming from Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth -- seemingly contradictory prophecies. I can't find any evidence that any scholar prior to Christ predicted that these scriptures would be fulfilled in the precise way that they were -- through Christ's birth in a manger in Bethlehem, his flight to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath, and then his return from Egypt to boyhood life in and around Nazareth. The prophecy was precise, but meaningful prediction was impossible. Instead, the prophecy served as a validation of Christ's identity.

I suspect that many End Times prophecies are similar. Our strained efforts to precisely anticipate their meaning may prove to be both fruitless and counterproductive. My message to the Left Behind generation is this: Don't be so fixated on our own (highly detailed) vision that we miss God. In reading End Times scriptures, I am often struck by the total absence of any clear scriptural reference to End Times role of the United States -- to the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. Some have explained this absence as evidence that America is somehow destroyed before the End Times events accelerate -- still others strain to read scriptures creatively and argue that America is in there, just hidden from plain sight. I wonder if this absence is better explained not by destruction but by a lack of participation, by distraction. Will our focus be elsewhere while the critical events play out? Will our End Times certainty lead us -- like it led the Pharisees -- to not only miss God's purpose but to actually oppose His work?

As Americans fearfully look to the future, instead of pointing them to Apocalypse, let's point them to Christ. The End may come in our lifetime, or it may not. Either way, with sobriety and humility, let us recognize God's sovereignty in history without binding ourselves to our own (inevitably tainted) reading of prophetic scripture. Our message to America should be simple -- and powerful: The world is not out of control, and we are never beyond Christ's love, protection and embrace.

8:12 AM

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