I will freely admit that, while I am not the most religious person in the world, I don't think God would mind if I offered Him another c o m m a n d m e n t : "Thou shall not grandstand and use my name in the process!" I think that advice would well suit some members of Indiana's congressional delegation, or at least two of them: Reps. Dan Burton and Mike Sodrel.
The two, along with State Sen. Mike Delph, held a news conference recently where Sodrel announced he had filed House Resolution 4776, which would prohibit the federal courts from hearing cases involving the content of legislative speech. He says the action is in direct response to the Indiana Civil Liberties Union's prayer lawsuit against House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma. I thought this matter became a federal case once it went before Judge David Hamilton, but leave it to congressmen to find opportunities to grab some more headlines.
The problem with the event is that the lawmakers obviously forgot there was someone in the Statehouse press corps who has a law degree and studied constitutional law. He's incredibly good-looking and writes this column.
I asked Sodrel a couple of questions. First, by removing the federal courts jurisdiction over the content of legislative speech, don't you open the door to discrimination with no recourse? Sodrel's response, in part, was that "no system was perfect." The question I asked the congressman involved the last couple of times the government tried to take away jurisdiction from the courts. Once it went after an Alabama newspaper publisher who criticized the government during Reconstruction, and another time it tried to strip free-speech protection of alleged Communists in the 1950s.
Once again, his response was that he could think of no instance where something like that would happen today. I could: Terry Schiavo. He did say there were some positive aspects of Congress' taking away federal jurisdiction. He said he would get them for me. I'm still waiting.
At this point, something happened to me that hadn't occurred in years. I had a politician lecture me. Congressman Burton, or "Danny," as I refer to him on air, told me he didn't know who I was and that he had never seen me before (I've interviewed him four times, two of which were face to face.)
Danny then went on to tell me he had been in the Legislature longer than I had been alive. He said, based on his 40 years of being in the Indiana House and in Congress, he couldn't imagine a religious minority being denied the chance to say a prayer at the speaker's podium. Call me when the Wiccans show up or the Atlantean Poseidon worshippers. I didn't take it personally. It was Danny being Danny.
I had no real issue with Mike Delph. Of the three, he was the most sincere, but we disagree over Judge Hamilton's ruling when he told the press that it was OK to say "Allah," but not "Christ," so he interpreted that as discrimination. The Judge wrote that "Allah" is Arabic for "God" and its use was no more different than the Spanish Dies, the German Got, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, etc. Delph disagreed, but admits he is not an attorney.
The main point of all this is that the "news" event was nothing but grandstanding before an election to score points with voters. Like I stated earlier, there ought to be a commandment to deal with nonsense like this.
Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and an attorney. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.