In the board game Jenga, a tower of wooden blocks is erected. Players remove one block at a time from the tower, and then stack it on top. As each successive block is removed, the tower becomes increasingly precarious. The game ends when the tower’s foundation can no longer bear the weight of the structure built on top of it, and the tower falls. The Supreme Court’s recent decisions in the Ten Commandments cases are a form of constitutional Jenga.
Think of our system of government and the liberties it grants as a Jenga tower. In our analogy, the blocks that comprise the tower are the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The blocks that comprise the foundation are the precepts of the Judeo-Christian religion, from which our form of government and fundamental constitutional liberties derive. If those foundation blocks are “removed” – by way of a Supreme Court opinion – our system of government will inevitably fail.
Some believe that only an audacious, religious nut could say that our nation and constitutional liberties are derived from the Judeo-Christian religion. But history proves otherwise. Indeed, if only religious nuts say such a thing, then numerous Supreme Court justices, ranging the whole ideological spectrum, who have stated as much on and off the bench, are religious nuts, too.
Justice David Brewer, an arch-conservative and unabashed Christian, wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court in 1892 that the United States “is a Christian nation.” Off the bench, Brewer wrote often and eloquently about the Christian heritage of our nation. Brewer, reflecting the views of the founding generation, believed that America’s commitment to a disestablished church was “one of its highest credentials to the title of a Christian nation.”
Moving into the 20th century, Justice Robert Jackson, a forceful advocate for rights of conscience while on the bench, believed our democratic form of government owed its very existence to the Judeo-Christian faith:
In Israel we find the first authentic evidence of a social consciousness among the leaders of organized society. It was here that the ethics of democracy were the warp and woof of the meditations of men.
Jackson elaborated on this theme in other writings, arguing that Mosaic Law provides the basis for many of our constitutional provisions and current statutes. As Jackson put it, “there is … good present-day law in the Scriptures.”
In a 1952 Supreme Court opinion, Justice William O. Douglas, progenitor of the right to privacy on which abortion rights are based, wrote that Americans are “a religious people” and that their “institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Off the bench, Douglas argued that Christianity greatly influenced the American governmental system. For instance, in his book “An Almanac of Liberty,” Douglas contended that the American concepts of equity and justice “have been more greatly influenced by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than by any other.”
While some may cry, “Objection, your honor,” these justices’ views merely reflect those of our Founding Fathers. When James Madison “remonstrated” against the Virginia Assessment Bill, he grounded the right to religious freedom in a distinctly Judeo-Christian premise: that man must be considered “a subject of the Governor of the Universe” before he can be considered “a member of Civil Society.” In other words, the fundamental right to religious freedom flows from God, not the government.
The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, bases all the fundamental rights of man on this same Judeo-Christian principle. The Declaration states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and that among those rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration would not have been written, and this nation never formed, if the founding generation believed that the rights of man were derived from an earthly authority. Such a belief would have led the colonists to grudgingly accept “the way things were” rather than revolt against England’s repeated violations of their inalienable, God-given rights. If the colonists had not had a Judeo-Christian view of human rights, we would still be honoring the queen, not electing a president.
The citizens of this country enjoy unparalleled freedom because their rights are based on the indisputable truth that rights derive from God. One need only look to the secular regimes of the last century to learn what happens when rights are divorced from Him. Conservatively, the godless communist regimes of that century murdered at least 30 million of their own citizens. Why? Because those governments viewed man as a pawn of the state, not as a unique individual created in the image of God and possessing inalienable rights.
Make no mistake, when the Supreme Court determines whether it is constitutionally permissible for government to acknowledge this nation’s religious heritage, it is doing nothing less than determining the constitutionality of the foundation of all of our rights as American citizens. These rights, as with the tower of wooden blocks in the game of Jenga, will not stand if divorced from their distinctly Judeo-Christian foundation.
With the court’s ambiguous rulings this week – upholding one Ten Commandments display and striking down another – we are left to wonder at the vitality of our freedoms. But the battle does not end here. Ten Commandments cases and their ilk will continue to come before the high court, and our duty as American citizens is to remain forever vigilant against further encroachments upon our nation’s Judeo-Christian foundation.
Jeremy Tedesco, who wrote an amicus brief for the Supreme Court in the Ten Commandments case Van Orden v. Perry, is a constitutional attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, America’s largest legal alliance defending religious liberty through strategy, training, funding and litigation. For more information on Ten Commandments legal issues, visit www.telladf.org/tencommandments.