The Theology Behind Alabama Official’s Demand to Flout SCOTUS

Roy Moore (L) receiving an award in 2011 from former Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Peroutka who has recently resigned from the board of the white supremacist League of the South. reports that Win Johnson, the director of the legal staff of the Administrative Office of Courts in Alabama, which operates the state’s judiciary headed by Chief Justice Roy Moore, has written a letter to public officials calling upon them “to stand against the ravages of a superior authority that would go beyond its rightful power and force upon the people something evil.” He is referring, of course, to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Moore himself has flouted federal authority when he refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state Supreme Court building over a decade ago. Earlier this year, he ordered court clerks in the state to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses after a federal trial court invalidated Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on Friday, Moore has said he will not compel clerks to issue licenses for a 25-day period during which the Obergefell parties could file a motion to rehear the case.

When Moore objected to the federal court order in Alabama in January, he wrote a letter to the state’s governor, Republican Robert Bentley, claiming the federal court “has raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.” Moore warned that local clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples will be “in defiance of the laws and Constitution of Alabama.”

Johnson’s letter, though, is much more explicit in laying out a detailed theology underlying his call for state and local government officials to refuse to comply with Obergefell. In Johnson’s letter, which he tells was not directed exclusively at the governor, but “to all public officials,” he writes:

Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous. If the public officials decide to officially approve of the acts of the wicked, they must logically not protect the righteous from the wicked. In fact, they must become protectors of the wicked. You cannot serve two masters; you must pick – God or Satan.

This characterization derives from Christian Reconstructionist theology, says Julie Ingersoll, associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida and author of the forthcoming book from Oxford University Press, Rebuilding God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian ReconstructionRooted in Calvinist theology, Christian Reconstruction teaches that society’s only legitimate “authority” is granted by God, to different “spheres,” such as church, family, or the government.

In this theocratic view, the government is considered legitimate only if it follows biblical law, and has a limited function–as Johnson argues, “punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous.” Christian Reconstruction teaches that if the government acts “unbiblically,” it is the duty of Christians to not just resist its authority, but rebel against it, said Ingersoll.

In Christian Reconstruction, Ingersoll added, “there is no neutrality.” The government, then, “can only work in two ways: to uphold biblical law or to side with those who reject biblical law. There’s no in between.” If the government “sides with those who reject biblical law,” she said, then “lesser magistrates,” or people of a lower position in the civil government, must exercise what Christian Reconstructionists claim is their “biblically delegated authority” to disobey the law.

Hence, Johnson, the legal director of the state judicial system in Alabama, insists he is biblically-bound to resist complying with an order of the United States Supreme Court.  Again, Ingersoll explains, that’s a Calvinist idea that was rejuvenated with Christian Reconstructionism in the 1960s, and it became incorporated in homeschooling and used by followers “in ways they might not even recognize.”

This ideology is embedded in Johnson’s letter, which scoffs at the prospect of court clerks resigning in protest, as one court clerk in Arkansas did this week. To Johnson, this response is inadequate. “Use your authority and every legal angle to oppose the tyrants!” he writes. “Why would you leave the people of this State, their children, your children and grandchildren to the wolves, those who would rend the society apart with their denial of what’s good and evil?” The government official’s duty, he continues, “is to stand against the ravages of a superior authority that would go beyond its rightful power and force upon the people something evil.”

That passage, said Ingersoll, doesn’t use the term “lesser magistrate,” but is very clearly drawn from the Calvinist and Reconstructionist idea that lower levels of civil government (“lesser magistrates”) are required to exercise their own divinely-granted authority in the face of unbiblical or (as Johnson characterizes it) “tyrannical” government action. The court clerks and other officials, said Ingersoll, “do indeed have civil authority” in this view, “but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is they have biblically delegated authority.”

Johnson, the legal director for the administration of a state court system no less, believes the Bible not only authorizes him, but requires him to flout the United States Supreme Court. Aside from Moore’s own Ten Commandments crusade in the early 2000s, it’s difficult to think of a clearer example of a government official acting with such an explicitly stated theocratic intent.


  •' seashell says:

    Hence, Johnson, the legal director of the state judicial system in Alabama, insists he is biblically-bound to resist complying with an order of the United States Supreme Court.

    While Johnson’s statement sounds like it comes from the fringes of the extreme Right, his statement is essentially the same as Huckabee’s, a wannabe candidate for President in 2016:

    “I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law.

    I find that truly scary.

  •' Alencon says:

    So the question becomes how long will the president wait until he works up the courage to enforce the law in states openly refusing to follow it? Elected officials cannot be allowed to flout the Constitution. The Rule of Law is what separates us from barbarians.

  •' Kuni Leml says:

    If they are ministers of God, then they should have no problem not getting paid by the hand of man.

    It is against my sincerely held religious beliefs that these parasite takers are being able to discriminate on the job.

  •' MarkSebree says:

    Because of the structure of the law and jurisprudence, the President cannot actually enforce such civil law. Plus, the way these states are acting right now, the results could be disastrous.

    What can be done is that if and when anyone, especially a same sex couple, is refused a marriage license, they can sue the county clerk and the county for his or her actions, and they will win easily in nearly any federal court. This will cost the county big money, likely resulting in the firing of the county clerk or judge that put them in that position. It will not take long for the governor to state unevokably that the county clerks and judges need to do their jobs and keep their religion out of the courthouse.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    “Rooted in Calvinist theology, Christian Reconstruction teaches that society’s only legitimate “authority” is granted by God, to different “spheres,” such as church, family, or the government.”


    Oh… those roots tap far deeper than Calvin. Christianity went into a purple rage when notions of Humanism first appeared. The Reformation and Cal came much later.

  •' Alencon says:

    And what is to keep them from ignoring that court decision?

    Article II, section 3 of the Constitution states that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Eisenhower sent federal troops to Arkansas to enforce the court’s school desegregation order.

    That might perhaps be a bit extreme but the DOJ undoubtedly has standing to do more than simply sit around and wring its hands. I consider this a tad more important than FIFA bribes.

    Perhaps letting things sort themselves out for a while is the prudent course for the moment but you need a plan in case that doesn’t work and a timetable for putting that plan into affect.

    What could be more disastrous than a state ignoring a SCOTUS ruling about protections the Constitution provides for citizens of the United States? What’s next, a return to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes? If you can ignore one aspect of the Constitution then why not all of it?

  •' Jon O says:

    I normally shy away from prooftexting, as it is a foul rhetorical strategy regularly employed by exactly the kinds of “Christians” described in this article. In this case, however, the opportunity was too good to pass up:

    Romans 13: 1-2 (NRSV)

    “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    “Fasten your safety belts, its going to be a bumpy night”,from Betty Davis, “All About Eve”.
    If that judge really meant it, he would not be paying his taxes. Does he know the Jesus quote, “Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s”? Actually that saying might be more to confuse and slow down the hubris. (There could be multi meanings anyway)

  •' GeniusPhx says:

    This kind of thing tells us in no uncertain terms what the republicans want our country to be, a christian theocracy, biblical laws, inquisitions, public executions of heretics; all things that were common in early colonies. To republicans those were the good old days !!

  •' MarkSebree says:

    The US President cannot enforce such a law, by the state and county can. The First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to seek redress from the government for wrongs done is what comes into play.

    If an elected official flouts the law, a wronged person, i.e. someone with standing who was harmed by the officials actions or inactions, can sue the official in his or her official capacity in civil court. That is how this latest suit for marriage equality started after all. Since the US Supreme Court has made a definite ruling on the matter, the lower courts are bound by that ruling, and thus are held to tell the offending county clerk and county that they are obligated to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. In general, the losing party is also obligated to pay the court and lawyer costs of the winning party, and possibly “reasonable damages”.

    I am not advocating ignoring any of the US Constitution. In this case, the problem is a bit more diffuse than the response to Brown vs. the Board of Education, so federal troops may not be the answer.

    I am sure that some reasonable timetables do exist, but I am not privy to them.

  •' Paul says:

    Well, well, finally arrives, our own home grown version of ISIS… when do the burnings and beheadings begin ? Soon those gays will be fair game for those Bible totin’ Reconstructionists. Praise God and pass the bullets !

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