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The sound of silence in Indiana

Even as liberal senators in Washington were painting mild-mannered U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito as an extremist bent on destroying everything good and decent, Indiana state senators were demonstrating where the real problem lies in our wounded republic.

In the Hoosier state, the Senate opened its session on Monday with 20 seconds of silence. That’s because U.S. District Judge David Hamilton, at the behest of the local American Civil Liberties Union, decided that a prayer in the Indiana House violated the First Amendment last summer when the preacher mentioned the name of Jesus.

In a way, the silent opening was fitting. You could almost envision the senators sitting there with muzzles on their jowls, adjusting them for comfort.

But the culprit is not the corrupt courts, where judges routinely issue sweeping rulings that would make Fidel Castro green with envy. It’s not even liberal legislators like Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who abet the steady destruction of self government in the name of “diversity.” They’re just acting like, well, liberals.

The real problem is spineless elected officials who know better but refuse to assert their authority and rein in our robed masters. Had Judge Hamilton been around during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, he undoubtedly would have tried to shut down the prayers that opened each session, and also the church services every Sunday in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, which Jefferson attended regularly.

I say only “try.” Can you imagine how the Congress of 1804 would have reacted to such a judicial dictate? They’d throw the bum out. These men actually believed that they had established, under God and through much spilled blood, a self-governing republic. To this day, Congress opens with prayer. If it’s good enough for Washington, D.C., why isn’t it good enough for Indiana?

Let’s pretend for a moment that Indiana’s senators were made of the same stuff as our Founders. As Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, points out, “We have had the tradition of invited ministers in Indiana for 188 years. We were hoping that they would have invited a preacher to pray from the podium in Christ’s name.”

In other words, they should have dared the court to stop it.

Does anyone think President Bush would actually send in federalized National Guard troops to stop a prayer? Even a John Kerry might think twice about doing that.

Next, they would have petitioned their congressional representatives to impeach the imperious judge. According to Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress establishes all courts below the Supreme Court, and the judges “shall hold their offices during good behaviour.”

Trampling on the people’s religious liberties is not “good behaviour.” Congress need not prove “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” That standard applies only to “[t]he President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States.” Isn’t it about time one of these lunatic judges was impeached?

In the same vein as the Indiana invertebrates, Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who is now inexplicably being hailed as a defender of marriage, stood by and capitulated to an illegal ruling on Nov. 18, 2003, by four justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. These judges inhaled something, then searched the state constitution, conceived by John Adams, and found a “right” to homosexual “marriage.” If they had taken a few more tokes, they might have come up with a “right” for men to marry trees.

Most people don’t realize that the court did not order the state to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples. The Goodridge decision itself noted that Massachusetts law did not allow same-sex “marriage,” and the court directed the Legislature to change the law within 180 days. The Legislature did not change the law. In fact, it convened a constitutional convention and considered amendments that would solidify marriage as the union only of one man and one woman.

Romney, however, took it upon himself to issue the licenses, without any legal authority to do so. If he had truly wanted to stop the radical defining of marriage, he could have invoked the state constitution itself, as noted in “The Missing Governor” by constitutional law scholar Hadley Arkes.

Part 2, Chapter III, Article V of the Massachusetts Constitution states: “All causes of marriage, divorce, and alimony, and all appeals from the Judges of probate shall be heard and determined by the Governor and Council, until the Legislature shall, by law, make other provisions.”

That’s pretty clear: It takes an act of the Legislature to alter marriage law, not merely a court’s opinion. So on May 17, 2004, the deadline for the 180-day illegal order, Romney should have said, “I am bound by my oath of office to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the marriage law has not been changed. Therefore, people who do not qualify will not receive marriage licenses.”

Romney did more than just blink. He paved the way for the illegal action by warning town clerks weeks ahead of time that they would have to violate their consciences and issue the licenses or lose their jobs. Also, Romney’s bureaucrats changed the marriage form from husband and wife to the apparently more romantic Party A and Party B.

Far from having his hands tied, the good governor was busy tying the knot for same-sex couples.

In a well-documented summary sent on Jan. 2, 2006, to the Boston Globe, Newton, Mass., resident William Hobbib notes, “I would ask the Globe to refrain from using such phrases as ‘Since same-sex marriage became legal in May 2004,’ since there is no statute legally permitting them today; they were ordered by the court and forced on the state by Gov. Romney in the absence of any law.”

This kind of feckless surrender to illegally employed power is not unique to state officials. Congress has just as great a need for backbone transplants.

A case in point: On May 28, 1998, Bill Clinton issued an executive order expanding federal employee anti-discrimination policy to include “sexual orientation.” When Congress passed the civil-rights laws in 1964 and 1965, it listed certain categories, such as race, ethnicity and sex. Over the years, the laws were expanded, but never to include “sexual orientation,” an ill-defined concept ripe for abuse.

By definition, Congress allowed claims based only on designated characteristics. Yet Clinton brazenly overrode Congress, amending a 1969 executive order on affirmative action from President Nixon. So what did the Senate, the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, do in the face of this usurpation? They rolled over. Even an override attempt in the House sponsored by Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., failed to muster enough votes.

But then, we should not have been surprised. Congress was already used to acquiescing to the Clinton administration and liberal courts. In 1994, both houses passed a bill establishing the military’s policy regarding homosexuality. They unwisely did away with the induction question, but made sure the law barred anyone with the “propensity” for homosexual acts. Clinton signed the bill.

Then, ignoring the law, the Pentagon issued “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” guidelines that appeared to allow homosexuals in the armed forces, so long as they didn’t get too obvious. Congress did nothing, refusing to challenge the distortion. To this day, the media routinely misreport that Congress itself concocted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law.”

Whether it is an overreach by an out-of-control court or an over-aggressive executive, legislators at all levels seem utterly unwilling to uphold their oaths and defend their authority. Instead, they wring their hands, complain a bit, and go about business as usual, which is usually to think up new ways to separate us from our earnings.

Getting good judges like Sam Alito on the bench is a very important part of the solution. Removing bad ones is the other part. An impeachment or two would send a message to overly ambitious judges and even to some tyrants in the governor’s mansions.

The U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions provide for impeachment of bad judges and public officials. Yet legislators say over and over that this would be too radical.

Smugly confident that they’ll never have to do their duty, legislators conclude, “It’s better to point fingers, accommodate the latest outrage, and tell our constituents every few years that we’re working hard, defending the Constitution.”

How long are Americans going to believe them?

Robert Knight is director of the Culture & Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America.