October 9, 2010
What Is Congress Establishing?
Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment, the one that reads "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion ... " But what if Congress established a religion called by some other name? Would the establishment clause still hold power?
This thought was triggered by an article in the New York Times, dated October 3. The article announced that the National Science Foundation has awarded a $700,000 grant to a New York City theater company named Civilians to finance the production of a play about climate change. A musical.
Many would ask what the connection is between the establishment clause of the Constitution and a play about global warming, or climate change, or whatever John Holdren has decided to call it this week. The connection is simply this. All religions, be they Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, or any other, are based on a fundamental premise that is (a) not provable to a skeptic and (b) within the confines of that religion, not open to debate, discussion, or objective investigation. All religions have a priestly class who purport to have the authority to guide the adherents of the group in what could be termed "proper behavior."
Even though anthropogenic global warming (AGW), climate change, and climate disruptions are phrases that can be used interchangeably, let's just stick with anthropogenic global warming (AGW) for convenience.
AGW is a theory. It has a significant number of adherents. It has as its fundamental premise the belief that human activity is the cause for changes in the Earth's climate. These climate changes are apparently undetectable by scientists other than those who are adherents to the AGW dogma (similar to a priestly class). The theory is not provable. It is not open to debate, discussion, or objective investigation. And, similar to Islam's reaction to any criticism of the Prophet Mohammed and early Christianity's reaction to any questioning of the divinity of Jesus, any questioning of this underlying premise is met with near violence and, at a minimum, severe verbal abuse.
And now there is a play about global warming. A play about a problematic fundamental premise. A play that will attempt to reinforce belief in that problematic fundamental premise among adherents, or will try to proselytize the young and those with less critical thinking skill.
Plays for the purpose of reinforcing belief in a religion or attracting new adherents to that religion have been done before. During the Middle Ages, Christianity used "passion plays" to great effect for that very purpose. During this period, these plays were presented by small troupes of performers who traveled from village to village and town to town to put on their versions of the Lenten passion plays before small audiences.
Even with $700,000, which to most ordinary people seems a rather extraordinary amount of money (but which the government spends about every eight seconds), the Civilians troupe, after paying for rehearsals, costumes, sets, props, advertising, and so on, could perform this musical before only slightly larger audiences and only for a very limited number of performances. That would, of course, ignore the fact that we no longer live in the Middle Ages. A video could be made of a performance and distributed to a much wider audience.
It could be viewed in one's own home. It could be shown in an "art" movie theater. Or it could be distributed to schools. Lots and lots of schools. All at the taxpayers expense. Congress has funded, and so indirectly authorized, such an effort, so it is surely possible.
The entire basis for the failed Cap and Trade legislation push last year was AGW. Every American would be forced to pay taxes and fees, and higher energy bills, to satisfy the demands of a movement that is based on a fundamental premise that is (a) not provable to a skeptic and (b) not open to debate, discussion, or objective investigation.
There is one further comparison here. AGW adherents believe that the American people must be coerced into compliance through taxation, both direct and indirect. Indirect includes such things as requiring the use of costly fluorescent light bulbs. Direct taxation includes ever-increasing surcharges for fuel. And not just gasoline. Any fossil fuel, such as heating oil, could be subject to additional taxation.
Demanding that nonbelievers pay to support a belief system to which they do not adhere has one contemporary religion that could use as a model. Islam has a quaint custom in dealing with populations under their control, called dhimmi, who do not believe in the fundamental premises of Islam. These populations are allowed to believe what they wish, but they must act in an utterly subservient role and pay for the privilege via a tax known as a jizya, or poll tax.
So is AGW simply a scientific theory, or is it a religion that is being legislated into existence by the Congress? Once again, if AGW is a scientific theory, it should be demonstrable and open to honest, open debate, discussion, and investigation. When phrases such as "the science is settled" are tossed about, the entire "debate, discuss, investigate" process is negated. When skeptics are labeled "deniers" as if they were questioning the Holocaust, the validity of claims that the "science" is settled have to be doubted.
So, as any lawyer would put it in a brief, res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.
Or as the rest of us might put it, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck...
This brings us back to the initial question. If Congress designated a religion by some other word, would the establishment clause still hold power? In other words, would legislation affected by any part of the climate change mantra be unconstitutional?
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller, Vietnam veteran, and libertarian (small "l"). Jim blogs at jimyardley.wordpress.com, or he can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.