Monday, May 09, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Follow the Crowd

Conserving minority rights as a bulwark against the tyranny of the majority is not just a great American tradition; it’s also a scriptural principle for people of faith to consider when the topic of judicial filibusters comes up.

The U.S. Senate filibuster wasn't designed as a tool for or against people of faith; it's designed to conserve minority rights. And scriptures have something to say about the importance of respecting minority rights in judicial matters.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) appealed to his colleagues’ sense of fairness on May 8, 2005 when he stated on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanapoulos” that “you can't give up a minority rights tool” such as the ability of senators to filibuster controversial judicial nominees. Instead, Mr. Hagel pointed to the possibility of a compromise. “You've got 100 United States senators,” he stated. “Some of us might be moderately intelligent enough to figure this out. We would, I think, debase our system and fail our country if we don't do this.”

Mr. Hagel offers one fine example of a conservative political leader defending a system that respects minority rights. But for conservative Christians who may believe that respecting the right of a Senate minority to filibuster against a handful of controversial judicial nominees is somehow “against people of faith,” is there any scriptural teaching which might offer fresh perspective?

Although the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament don’t contemplate U.S. Senate filibusters (and, for that matter, the scriptures don’t claim to lay out for us a manual on how to set up modern governments and court systems), there are passages concerning the virtue of heeding the minority and the dangers of simply pleasing the majority.

Exodus Chapter 23, which describes principles of fairness and mercy in ancient Israel, warns against simply caving in to the majority in judicial matters. “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (Exodus 23:2-3).

And on the other hand, the passage continues, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” (Exodus 23:6) In other words, don’t show favoritism to anyone simply because she is poor or popular, but don’t prevent ordinary folks from getting their day in court either. Be impartial, and don’t play to the crowds.

Further, don’t create a biased court system where the rich could gain undue influence or buy their way out of trouble. “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.” (Exodus 23:8) Bribery and other forms of public corruption make it impossible for ordinary folks to get a fair forum to have their righteous claims heard.

Like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament also warns against following the will of the majority in judicial matters.

After all, who was Pontius Pilate playing to when he sat in the judge’s seat and considered Jesus’ civil rights? Pilate, you recall, bowed to the will of the majority and to certain religious leaders of his day when he “took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.” (Matthew 27:24)

Following the will of the majority – even if the crowd is backed by certain religious leaders with their own political agendas – is not necessarily following the will of God.

So what is a theologically consistent position in judicial matters? “Follow justice and justice alone.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

Is God on the side of the majority political party? Not necessarily; neither the Hebrew Bible nor the New Testament make that claim. Is God on the side of a few outspoken religious leaders of the day? Again, not necessarily.

But scriptures do point to one reliable path toward God. God is always on the side of justice. Those who seek God will find God on the side of justice for the poor, for people wrongly sentenced to death (Exodus 23:7), for foreigners and immigrants (Exodus 23:9), for widows and orphans, and for whoever else comprises the neglected, the despised, and the downtrodden minority of our day.

So instead of seeking God in political polls or party caucuses, and instead of claiming that God endorses any particular partisan viewpoint, let’s seek justice and justice alone. Let’s seek justice for all people without fear or favor, let’s hold the rich and powerful accountable, and let’s have the courage sometimes to stand up to the crowd for the sake of principle. And then we will be blessed, as the words inscribed above the west entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court Building promise, with "Equal Justice Under Law."

Respect for minority rights in judicial matters is not only an important American tradition; it wisely conserves a virtue taught in scriptures.


Blogger Dacelo said...

I thought your readers should see this too:

The respected Washington, DC publication The Hill ( has confirmed that former conservative radio talk-show host and now Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel was the head of, and continues to own part interest in, the company that owns the company that installed, programmed, and largely ran the voting machines that were used by most of the citizens of Nebraska.

Back when Hagel first ran there for the U.S. Senate in 1996, his company's computer-controlled voting machines showed he'd won stunning upsets in both the primaries and the general election. The Washington Post (1/13/1997) said Hagel's "Senate victory against an incumbent Democratic governor was the major Republican upset in the November election." According to Bev Harris of, Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many largely Black communities that had never before voted Republican. Hagel was the first Republican in 24 years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska.

Six years later Hagel ran again, this time against Democrat Charlie Matulka in 2002, and won in a landslide. As his website says, Hagel "was re-elected to his second term in the United States Senate on November 5, 2002 with 83% of the vote. That represents the biggest political victory in the history of Nebraska."

What Hagel's website fails to disclose is that about 80 percent of those votes were counted by computer-controlled voting machines put in place by the company affiliated with Hagel. Built by that company. Programmed by that company.

6:24 PM  

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