Monday, December 08, 2008

Trusting our safety to the government bureaucrats rather than God

Tom Eblen at the Lexington Herald-Leader thinks God "doesn't need government's help". Trouble is the story that includes that phrase as part of its title has to do, not with whether God needs government's help, but with whether government needs God's help. And if Eblen doesn't think government needs divine assistance, I suggest he attend a few sessions of the state's legislature.

But let's cut Eblen a break here: he's just doing his job, which, for a journalist these days, seems be to look grim when when religion is mentioned in the same context as government:
I'm furious that tens of thousands of dollars of public money is likely
to be spent litigating this obviously unconstitutional attempt to
require government to do the work of churches, synagogues and mosques.
Now first of all, it will be news to a lot of people that churches, synagogues, and mosques are the only places in which God can be acknowledged. In fact, millions of people--and lots of institutions, many of which are outside places of worship, do it every day.

Secondly, why is it that the people who think it is really silly to acknowledge reliance on God in the state's Homeland Security documents that very few people will see, but don't seem to be bothered by the fact that we acknowledge it on the nation's coined money that we all carry around in our pockets? Or does Eblen, a professed Christian, go along with the athiests on this one too?

The comparison of these two issues is not immaterial when it comes to the constitutionality of the law, since the "In God we trust" motto has already been litigated. In Aronow v. United States the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1970 that it was constitutional. He might also check O'Hair v. Blumenthal, as well as the more recent Studler v. Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, in which an Indiana Appeals Court last month upheld the constitutionality of Indiana's "In God we trust" licence plates.

Not that courts can't get it wrong, but anyone who says the court did reach the wrong verdict will have to explain what a state law generically acknowledging God has to do with Congress establishing a religion, a provision that Eblen references, but without noticing that it has nothing to do with a) Congress, or b) establishing a religion. If some enterprising person does want to take this up, he might also provide some explanation of the explictly religious provisions in many state laws to which no one gave a second thought at the time the Bill of Rights was passed.

And, finally, Eblen's argument that the law is bad because of the money it will cost to defend it is what I call a "decoy argument". It has all the appearance of being real, but is really designed to divert your attention . If Eblen doesn't like the fact that money will have to be spent to defend the law, then why isn't he mad at the atheist group that brought the suit rather than at State Rep. Riner, who sponsored the original legislation?

The only reason is that he agrees with the former and not with the latter.

How much will it cost to defend this law? Nothing. Zero. Nada. There is no evidence that the Attorney General's office will spend any more money now that they have to defend this law than they would have if the law had never been passed. They're not going to hire any more lawyers to do it, and it is extremely unlikely they're going to work extra hours.

This is government, remember?

The only cost involved in defending the law is what the economists call "opportunity cost." Opportunity cost is the cost of what you can't otherwise do. In this case, that could be a good thing. I'd much rather the AG defend the proposition that our ultimate safety is in God than interfering in the free market by going after small business owners who run gas stations in places like Louisville for high gas prices over which they have little control, which is what they had planned on doing before the market adjusted itself thank you very much.

In fact, now that gas is back down under $2.00, all those lawyers in the AG's office must be looking for something to do. This new case will give it to them. The last thing we want is a bunch of lawyers with too much time on their hands.

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