Sitting in the chamber of the United States Supreme Court is always a signal act of American citizenship. Today it was that and more.
As you know, I do a lot at the Supreme Court, and I’m there frequently for a variety of reasons, but yesterday and today were extraordinary in every way. First, the Court’s usual shield of obscurity was lifted by the media limelight. There were also crowds outside where normally just a few clusters of tourists can be seen and where passers-by hurry to lunch or to their offices. And inside, the pew-like benches were filled with top Washington figures, including members of Congress, representatives of the Obama Administration, and famous lawyers and activists from all sides.
These were unusual days for me for another reason. For the first time in years I couldn’t secure a reserved seat. The last time that happened was for the two Bush v. Gore cases over the 2000 presidential election. Like then, though, I found there’s always another way, and, thanks be to God, it worked. Not only did I get in, but I was able to take with me attorney Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, (son to my good friend Jay Sekulow , who was busy doing media all day) and a constitutional expert in his own right. Jordan helped me sort out the nuances of the arcane arguments.
Of course, my role at the Court is not as a lawyer; I am a minister. My observation of the justices and their interaction with the government and civilian lawyers before them was more “pastoral.” I like to prayerfully study their body language and facial expressions, the tone of their voices and what makes them furl their brows. Pastors do a lot of that and I have always found it very revealing. This time was no disappointment.
With Jordan’s helpful guidance, the prayers of our team outside, and the visuals in the courtroom, I came away with a strong sense that four members are resolutely opposed to the idea of the government mandating that every American purchase insurance products that they may not want, for some, because they find them to be morally repugnant. Once again, the fulcrum appears to be Justice Anthony Kennedy. He asked incisive questions of both sides, but definitely furled his brow on the question of fundamentally changing the relation of the citizen with government.
My deepest concern, of course, remains with what some are calling the “power grab” by government. Ordering citizens to purchase a certain form of insurance, even if that purchase is in conflict with their own conscience, religious, moral, and ethical beliefs, is an egregious violation of church and state. The church helps shape and form the conscience through its proclamation of the Gospel. The state simply guarantees the individual the right to act on that conscience with minimal intrusion. I believe the new law (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PAACA) not only fails in this paramount responsibility to protect individual liberty, but it actually militates against it. For that reason, it violates the First Amendment, and should be struck down. Because the particular question of compelling religious organizations wasn’t before the Court, if the law is struck down, it will likely be for another reason, but the effect will be the same.
I’m not able to be in the courtroom tomorrow for the third and final day of argument, but I will have two people inside with front row seats. I’ll debrief with them afterward and listen to the recording of the arguments. That will surely give me more to write here. In the mean time, watch for our daily videos at www.faithandaction.org.
Yours in continuous prayer,