Last week the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that a judge in Mansfield, Ohio, James DeWeese, violated the constitution with the “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” poster he placed on his courtroom wall, which compares the “Moral Absolutes of the Ten Commandments” with the “Moral Relatives of Humanism.”
But the media and even church-state separation activists missed the real violation when they reported the story. It may well have been the posting of the Ten Commandments that the Court found objectionable, but far more troubling is that the poster reflected the influence of R.J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionist theonomy on Judge DeWeese’s thinking.
The exception to the inadequate reporting was the coverage by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which had filed an amicus brief in the case. Back in March 2010, Sandhya Bathija, writing for the AU, dug into the details in an article entitled “An Ohio ‘Commandments’ Judge Would Like To Impose God’s Law On You—And His Religious Right Mentors Are Even More Extreme.” Bathija reported that DeWeese was a graduate of the Christian Reconstructionist Witherspoon School of Law, which is sponsored by Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum. (I’ve written about Phillips and Vision Forum here, here, and here.) The “law school” is really a four day seminar on biblical law.
But there’s more here than the mere fact that DeWeese is affiliated with Phillips and Vision Forum. The poster itself, on the wall of an American courtroom, presents Rushdoony’s philosophy of knowledge (epistemology) and law. All of Rushdoony’s work is rooted in this philosophical school known as “presuppositionalism.” In simple terms, this means he argues that all systems of knowledge are ultimately rooted in assumptions (presuppositions) that cannot be proven. As member of the audience where I recently spoke on this topic said, “You mean everything starts with a leap of faith?” Exactly.
For Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists, “knowing” begins with choosing an authority to follow, and there are only two choices: God or human reason (which Reconstructionists criticize as “secular humanism”). In this view, there is no sphere of human life that is not religiously significant. Every aspect of life is subject to God’s law. Anyone who says otherwise is in rebellion against God and making their own reason the measure of all things.
DeWeese’s poster did more than violate the constitution. It aimed to undermine the very foundation of the legal system.