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Monday, August 01, 2005

Surveying The Field

Garang of the Sudan died in a plane or helicopter crash. This is likely to have major repercussions, since he had a major role in the unity deal for Sudan. Newsday/AP has an excellent summary.

According to Reuters, Bush will make a recess appointment of Bolton today.

It's rare that I read an article by anyone who writes for Reason and think "what a fool!" Yet this article by Cathy Young (Boston Globe) should be a personal embarrassment to her. She begins by saying that Roberts looks like a good appointment:
From everything that has been reported so far, Roberts looks eminently qualified for the high court. His record paints a picture of a temperamentally moderate jurist who would be very unlikely to challenge precedent in the name of ideology, or to use his public position to advance his personal values. But what if there was a nominee who showed less restraint? Would that candidate's beliefs still be out of bounds for questioning as long as they were religious in nature?
She has her own interpretation of Article VI:
Article VI says that US senators, representatives, state legislators, and federal and state judicial and executive officeholders ''shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The context makes it fairly clear what the original intent of this clause was. An officeholder could not be required to take an oath or perform a religious ritual affirming his allegiance to a particular religion or denomination, or even a general belief in God.
And how, I wonder as I stare at the print on the screen in a daze, does she arrive at that conclusion? Wishful thinking, perhaps? An abysmal ignorance of history? The Catholic/Anglican political and religious fight in Great Britain was ongoing during this time. It was not until the 1800's that some Catholics in Ireland got the right to vote again. Maybe this is simple enough for Cathy to understand:
In the 18th century attempts were made to obtain full political and civil liberties to British and Irish Roman Catholics. In Ireland, where the majority of the population were Catholics, the Relief Act of 1793 gave them the right to vote in elections, but not to sit in Parliament.

In England the leading campaigners for Catholic emancipation were the Radical members of the House of Commons, Sir Francis Burdett and Joseph Hume.

By the beginning of the 19th century, William Pitt, the leader of Tories, became converted to the idea of Catholic emancipation. Pitt and his Irish Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, promised the Irish Parliament that Catholics would have equality with Protestants when it agreed to the Act of Union in 1801. When King George III refused to accept the idea of religious equality, Pitt and Castlereagh resigned from office.

In 1823 Daniel O'Connell founded the Catholic Association to campaign for the removal of discrimination against Catholics. In 1828 he was elected as M.P. for County Clare but as a Catholic he was not allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons. To avoid the risk of an uprising in Ireland, the British Parliament passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act in 1829, which granted Catholic emancipation and enabled O'Connell to take his seat.
The provisions in the Constitution were designed to avoid historical evils, such as England's deprivation of Catholics' political rights. I would have to say that those who wrote and ratified the Constitution had precisely that in mind, especially given the explicit restriction of any government power to establish or regulate religion contained in the First Amendment.

It may be true that those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. If so, the Democratic Party seems destined to a long and agonizing suicide in the public eye. You simply can not start carving bits right out of the Constitution because they offend you without tossing the whole shebang. For those who don't know any history, a group which I am beginning to suspect constitutes a huge majority of the left and leftist law professors, here's a Wikipedia entry regarding the restoration of Catholic civil rights in Great Britain:
The first Catholic Relief Act was passed in 1778; subject to an oath against Stuart claims to the throne and the civil jurisdiction of the Pope, it allowed Roman Catholics in Great Britain to own property, inherit land, and join the army.
But not to vote or hold office. Undoubtedly Cathy Young has never heard of the Test Acts:
The several Test Acts were a series of English penal laws that imposed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and nonconformists. The principle that none but persons professing the Established Church were eligible for public employment and the severe penalties denounced against recusants, whether Roman Catholic or Nonconformist, were affirmations of this principle. The Act of 7 James I of England provided that all such as were naturalized or restored in blood should receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was not, however, until the reign of Charles II of England that actually receiving of the communion of the Church of England was made a condition precedent to the holding of public offices. The earliest imposition of this test was by the Corporation Act of 1661 enacting that, besides taking the Oath of Supremacy, all members of corporations were within one year after election to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England.

This act was followed by the Test Act of 1673. The immediate cause of the Test Act (the full title of which is 'An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants'. This act enforced upon all persons filling any office, civil or military, the obligation of taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and subscribing a declaration against transubstantiation, and also of receiving the sacrament within three months after admittance to office.
This was the type of thing the American Constitution was written to avoid.

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