This last week, Dan Lungren, U.S. Representative for California’s 3rd congressional district, described in a speech before the House of Representatives his belief that Christianity is the foundation of our constitutional rights: “Not that government gives us these rights; government is supposed to protect those rights, secure those rights, those rights that we, through rational perception, can determine – our God-given natural rights.”
Representative Lungren and his ideological allies use this bit of political philosophy to justify laws that violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, which declares that Congress shall take no action regarding an establishment of religion. Their claim is that the Constitution is not the highest law of the land after all. They believe that there is a higher law, which has been established by the primary deity of Christianity.
But what is that law? Sure, there’s the Bible, but that book of instructions stopped being updated almost two thousand years ago. Besides, the Bible doesn’t refer to the United States. It doesn’t refer to freedom of the press, or to freedom of speech, or to the right of a fair trial with a jury of peers, or anything about a representative democracy. If the Christian deity really provided the United States with its system of constitutional rights, then he didn’t leave any paper trail.
Was the Christian god supposed to have sent of divine phone calls to the Founding Fathers, to tell them how to write the Constitution? Actually, Congressman Lungren does believe something like that. It’s what he’s referring to when he talks about “rights that we, through rational perception, can determine – our God-given natural rights.”
Representative Lungren’s idea is that there is a set of cosmic, supernaturally-created laws. These cosmic laws are superior to the Constitution, so that if a provision of the Constitution seems to be in conflict with the cosmic laws, the Constitution is overruled.
These cosmic laws that Dan Lungren follows aren’t really written down anywhere. They’re supposed to be accessed, not by reading any words on a page, but through what Lungren, rather loosely, calls “reason”. According to Lungren’s political philosophy, members of Congress just need to sit down, close their eyes, and think hard for a while, and then, through heavenly inspiration, they’ll just realize what the cosmic laws are.
There’s a literal problem with this idea. It’s not consistent with what the Constitution, the single legal founding document of the United States of America, actually says. What it says is that Congress shall make no act regarding an establishment of religion. Logically, that means that the activities of Congress cannot be founded in any religious concepts, and certainly not Lungren’s belief in a superconstitutional set of cosmic laws.
There’s a practical problem as well: Lungren’s political philosophy, if followed, would completely disintegrate the rule of law in the United States. If members of Congress followed Lungren’s advice, they wouldn’t stop to think about constitutional matters at all when writing new laws. They wouldn’t regard other laws that had been written down either. Instead, the over 500 members of Congress would just sit down, close their eyes, and think for awhile until some ideas popped into their heads about what God wanted them to do.
No one can say what Dan Lungren’s cosmic laws are, because the supposed source of them has never even been reasonably proved to exist, much less truly talk to people. So, I as a member of Congress, could say that the Christian god had talked to me, and told me that the cosmic law proclaims that I have a right to a check for one million dollars. That higher law would then overrule the Constitution, and all the other laws established under the Constitution, and I’d have to be given one million dollars, until another member of Congress, fresh from a session of divine legislative meditation, declared that he had a natural right to my one million dollars, plus a new car. Then, I’d have to give him my million dollars and buy him a new car to boot.
Rule by cosmic law is a form of theocracy. That’s bad enough, but it’s arbitrary as well, and that makes it absolutely insane.
I propose that, instead of following Dan Lungren’s model of arbitrary theocracy by cosmic law, we comply with the laws of our land as written by human beings through the human mechanisms of a government accountable to human beings. It’s much simpler, and more reliable to do things that way.