June 26, 2005

High Court to End Term With Big Decisions

We all know that the Ten Commandments decision is going to be big news, regardless of the outcome. Most of the press so far has focused on attempts to predict the outcome and to assess the outcome desired by the public. I've been more interested in the likely responses to each of the three possible outcomes.

Outcome #1: The court issues a clear ruling in support of Ten Commandments displays. With this outcome, I'd expect to see Christian extremists dancing in the streets and thumbing their noses at the rest of us. They'll use this as a mandate from the people (despite the source) and an invitation to shove religion on us without consequence. Complaints of judicial activism will not go away, and the Christian extremists will continue to use that manipulative strategy for political gain. We atheists will be disappointed but not overly surprised. We will be left to struggle with the implications of the ruling, one of which will be that lawsuits on similar matters will be much harder to bring. Would such an outcome really change our lives? Probably not in the long-term (other than the lucky ones who are able to move to Canada).

Outcome #2: The court issues a clear ruling upholding the Constitution and finding that Ten Commandments displays are not acceptable. While this is the outcome that most of us probably desire, I fear that such a ruling would become a rallying cry for the Christian extremists to double their efforts to dismantle judicial discretion and complete the transformation of America into a theocracy. Don't think so? Look at Roe v. Wade. Of the three possible outcomes, I believe that this one would have the most serious consequences for us. As paradoxical as it sounds, I fear that America may become an even more difficult place to live following such a ruling. Of course, that doesn't stop me from hoping that this is the court's decision. In fact, maybe this level of heightened conflict would be good for the country.

Outcome #3: The court issues an ambigious ruling that addresses part of the issue without resolving the matter completely. I predict that this is the most likely outcome of the three. The court issues a partial decision that will be interpreted as some form of victory by both sides while leaving the core issues unresolved. I can't help but view such an outcome as a victory for Christian extremists. Legal precedent is fairly clear on the unacceptability of religious monuments on public land, so anything short of enforcing such precedent should be cause for celebration by extremists. The precise effects of this outcome would depend on which issues were unresolved, but it would certainly spark a national debate over the root issues and how the court's ruling should be interpreted.

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